While semi-new to Fall River’s political scene with Fall River Reporter, I’m not new to reporting news. I’ve run New Bedford Guide for 9 years and before that was an Intelligence Officer for the U.S. Air Force for 20 years. The New Bedford Guide and Fall River Reporter websites each get 200,000 readers monthly and combine for well over 2 million page views, or articles read. Our social media pages engage 500,000 a week. We don’t have a huge staff and deep pockets like other local media, but we are a dominant digital news presence not only on the south coast, but in New England. I’m not bragging, just providing some context that I represent a media organization with a large, engaging readership.
Last night was election night in Fall River and after “living under a dark cloud” for over a year due to Mayor Jasiel Correia’s federal corruption charges, you would have thought people at Government Center would have been on their best behavior, but that wasn’t the case for some of the election office staff.
Around 5 pm, I visited the Fall River’s election office on the six-floor of Government Center to get an update on the election. The main access door had a paper sign taped on it that asked people to use the teller like window for help. This was different than in September’s preliminary election when you could just walk into the office.
When one of the election office workers arrived to help, I identified as media and asked if I could come in. She politely said no and answered my questions. I didn’t have an issue or think much of it until I walked by the office 15 minutes later and saw a staff reporter for a local newspaper not only past the access door, but was comfortably in the work area hanging out with election staff and Fall River police officers.
Later that night, as election results were about to come in, I positioned myself on the first floor near the stairs to the basement. The basement of Fall River Government Center is where the results come into the building and where the elections office delivers the election results to the public. Unlike in New Bedford, where the Election Commissioner reads out the results then hands out printed copies to all, Fall River simply prints out updates. The main issue I have with Fall River’s election office staff is the favoritism they openly display in front of reporters and the public.
The process works like this. The results are delivered by thumb drives to the basement by Fall River police officers. Election office staff import the results to a computer and then print out the results. Here is where the problem arises. An open deal is made so Fall River Government Television can get the results first and roughly 5 minutes before anyone else. Right in front of the local, Providence and Boston media, the election staff print one copy, give it to a Fall River Government Television worker, then print out another copy, take a long walk to a copier in a different part of the basement and then come back to the area where a dozen or more people are waiting. It feels like a deliberate delay to slow down the results from getting out, especially on a night where Fall River Government Television lost its Facebook live feed. At a minimum, it was to give an advantage to Fall River Government Television.
I keep hearing about how the “dark cloud over Fall River” is supposed to be lifted after Jasiel Correia is voted out of office. I would expect workers to be on their best behavior in front of Providence and Boston reporters, especially on a night when all eyes are on the city.
Since my first day of covering Fall River roughly a year ago, I’ve been dealing with unresponsive politicians and politicians using information as currency with the media. On one of my first weeks of reporting in Fall River in 2018, I emailed all nine members of the Fall River City Council for an interview. Only Steven Camara responded to the email. Steven Camara was voted out last night, but thankfully there is some new blood coming to the City Council in January. Fall River’ is also the only place where I’ve seen local media write checks to local politicians and those same politicians write checks back in the form of campaign ad purchases. I haven’t sen that in 9 years of covering New Bedford.
Don’t take this as an attack on acting Mayor Cliff Ponte or incoming Mayor Paul Coogan – they haven’t had a chance to address this issue and I’ve already started the process of informing them. Paul Coogan has been very responsive to questions and concerns. If after learning about this and nothing is done, then I’ll write up another article to inform the public and hold them accountable.
Personally, I hope Paul Coogan brings some much-needed change to repair Fall River’s image. Hopefully, he starts with the policy and procedures of Fall River’s election office.