No. Prov. aces First Amendment audit, wins global kudos

No. Prov. aces First Amendment audit, wins global kudos

In this screen grab from an Auditing America video at North Providence Town Hall, Chief of Staff Dick Fossa asks the person taking the video if he’d like a tour of Town Hall.

NORTH PROVIDENCE – When a YouTube watchdog group with a camera showed up to Town Hall last week, Chief of Staff Dick Fossa made the town proud, said Mayor Charlie Lombardi.

Fossa’s response to a representative from Auditing America coming in to film inside the town’s main government building was to offer him a comprehensive tour of every department, even taking him to the basement level to meet workers in the break room.

The response, a far cry from similar filming efforts by the group in other Rhode Island communities and around the world, had Auditing America videographer and narrator “Enrique” raving about the experience.

Lombardi said his office took some 75 calls from around the world last Friday as the 15-minute video of the encounter went viral. Calls came in from across the country and around the world with people praising the town for its openness.

“They were saying, this is how it should be, this is how government should work,” he said. Some were even calling for Fossa to run for national office, saying he’s the type of person Washington needs, said the mayor, laughing.

The video, with the caption, “Wow, you won’t believe his behavior,” had about 54,000 YouTube views on the Auditing America channel as of Monday. That channel has a combined 15 million video views, and Fossa said Enrique told him he makes good money running it.

Fossa said he got a kick out of the calls that came in immediately after the video was posted. He said he received one call from a man in Austin, Texas, telling him he made the caller proud to be an American. Another person called from Stockholm, Sweden, to tell him he’d like to stop in to see him if he’s ever in the area. Other calls came from London and Germany.

“I’m not into the high-tech stuff, but it was an experience, it was funny,” said Fossa.

He added that he’s not sure what goes into people seeing such a thing online and then reaching out to the subject of the video. He added that he only knows about the popularity of the video because others have told him about it.

“I don’t know how to go on YouTube,” he said. “I don’t really care how many hits it gets.”

A U.S. Air Force veteran wrote to Lombardi to commend his staff on its professionalism and transparency seen on the video.

“It is amazing that this can still exist in the environment we live in today. I beg that you inform your staff they are champions of government officials,” wrote the man in an email provided to The Breeze. “They have set the bar extremely high when it comes to interactions with the general public. We can only dream to have more people like you and yours in positions of local, state, and federal governments throughout the United States.”

Fossa said Enrique was videotaping for a while when someone from tax collections came to his office and told him he was in the building. His initial thought was that it was a TV crew and, “oh boy, what did we do now?”

When Fossa saw Enrique, he said he knew immediately who he was, having seen him and his crew at the governor’s State of the State address. Knowing that the group sometimes tries to get negative reactions from government officials, he made the choice to go all positive and take Enrique for a walk.

“We killed them with kindness,” he said.

Other communities haven’t handled the situation quite so well, said Fossa.

“Wow, I’ve never seen that happen,” said Enrique as he walked out of Town Hall. He told Fossa several times during his tour how impressed he was and how awesome town employees were, saying this was the best tour of a town hall he’d ever had.

Fossa kept offering to take him to new places in Town Hall.

“You can go anywhere you want, it’s a public building,” said the chief of staff.

The best part of the video, said Fossa and Lombardi, was when Fossa showed Enrique the mayor’s office.

“It’s a little busy, but he loves pictures,” Fossa said on video, describing the mayor’s cluttered walls.

Auditing America bills itself as a group that runs First Amendment audits and “right to film” audits, going into public places to take footage and see how the government reacts in supporting the freedom of the press.

“Former ‘Mayor Dick’ is a great guy! Even took me to the non-public areas,” wrote Enrique under his North Providence video. “401-232-0900. Call them to say how great they are!”

Lombardi said the positive publicity for North Providence, a community that’s seen its share of headlines for bad government at work, is “fantastic for the town. It’s so positive, it’s crazy. We beat them at their own game.”

The mayor said he was especially happy to see Fossa, who lives next to celebrity Judge Frank Caprio, get his own viral recognition, and Fossa was sure to let Caprio know of his accomplishment.

Lombardi was at an outside meeting when the encounter took place. He said when he came back, Fossa joked that he’d stepped in to save him.

Comments

When I first read the article I thought that perhaps they were referring to some sort of legitimate, respectable official audit from a government organization or a right group. Sadly, we're talking about a group of two guys only concerned about viewership of their youtube channel. They are annoying, obnoxious individuals that are vying for a revenue stream, and this article only serves to congratulate the City of North Providence for not feeding internet trolls while giving said trolls a veneer of legitimacy.

To be clear, I'm glad that Mr. Fossa enjoyed his time showing these two men around and that he felt it was a positive experience and this is not a dig on him at all. However, the motivation behind the actions of the two individuals that film Auditing America is not noble, and we shouldn't be legitimizing their behavior with a pomp-and-circumstance news article.

Put another way: it would be like if the Breeze was to publish an article on a picked-on kid convincing a bully to not steal his lunch money, and the article congratulated the picked-on kid while suggesting that the bully's behavior had good intentions.

Now the Mayor can go the next step and publish all of the towns employment contracts on their website.

I get that Mr Fossa was trying to avoid any confrontations like auditing america has in his past video's and showing his city in a favorable way. But there is not need to make Anselmo or his other sidekick Joe famous. For what they do it is not of anything near to be considered news worthy let alone to get the top headline in the Breeze NP section. Just sad. Great job by Mr Fossa, but these 2 do this antagonizing of city and state workers, specifically police to get views which in turns makes them money, its not about the 1st amendment, its about money.