News you WON’T read in the ProJo

Jun 15, 2012

The Providence Journal, the state’s largest newspaper and the local arm of the Texas-based Belo Corporation,  has long called in editorials for non-profit institutions in the capital city to pay more to support city government. This has led the newspaper to support Mayor Angel Taveras’ efforts to get more payments-in-lieu of taxes from Brown University, Johnson & Wales University, Providence College, Women& Infants Hospital and Rhode Island Hospital.

What the ProJo’s news and editorial staff is not telling its readers is that the newspaper’s corporate side is looking for about $5 million in tax rebates from cash-strapped city government.

In documents filed in Rhode Island Superior Court, the ProJo contends that the city has established  real estate assessments that are too high on both the newpaper’s properties on Fountain Street, which houses the editorial and advertising offices, and the production plant on Kingsley Avenue, where the ProJo and other regional newspapers are printed.

The city and lawyers for the ProJo have been in private negotiations on the issue for weeks now. The talks have entered a period of particular urgency because a trial has been scheduled for next week in Rhode Island Superior Court before Judge Patricia Hurst.

“We’re still negotiating,’’ said Tim Eskey, the lawyer for the ProJo. “I can’t say anything more.’’

Mayor Taveras spokesman, David Ortiz, declined comment when asked recently about the negotiations, which aren’t public. Jeff  Padwa, Providence city solicitor, also declined comment and referred questions to Ortiz.

So far this is all hush-hush, but if the matter goes to trial in open court, one would think the newspaper, which is notoriously secretive about its business, would have to assign a reporter to cover it. While the ProJo is great at poking its nose in everybody’s else’s business, it has never been good about covering its own. (The paper is a public trust when it wants open records and poses as a government watchdog but has never been particularly open about its own interactions with government. That “truth’’ stuff only goes so far). For the ProJo it has always been do as we say, not as we do. The lawsuits have been laying around the public files at the Superior Court for many months with nary a word in the newspaper.

If the newspaper gets it way on this one, well, maybe Brown should just send its payments in lieu of tax checks to Belo headquarters in Dallas.