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Auto body shop at center of census controversy

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Councillor requests federal investigation

  Auto body shops don’t typically take center stage when it comes to redrawing the voting maps after the U.S. Census every decade.

  But at a public hearing Monday night, questions about 67 people who appear to be living at Atlas Auto Body at 1605 North Shore Road according to census statistics threw a wrench in the redistricting process, at least temporarily.

  The City Council has about three weeks to approve the new map for the city, with a deadline of Dec. 15 set by the state.

  At last Monday night’s meeting with the council; Revere Director of Innovation Rueben Kantor laid out the map recommended by the city’s redistricting committee. With the city seeing 20 percent growth over the past decade, the biggest growth was in Ward 2.

  To keep the city’s six wards approximately the same size, Kantor said Ward 2 will be losing some area, while Ward 6, which had the slowest growth, will be expanding its boundaries.

  During the presentation, Kantor noted several times that how the city can redraw the boundaries was limited somewhat by the state jumping in first to reset the boundary between the 16th and 19th Suffolk state legislative districts.

  One of the other big proposed changes is the swapping of Ward 3, Precinct 3 and Ward 5, precinct 3. Kantor said there was testimony from the public to shift the precincts so that all of Ward 3 will now be in the 16th Suffolk District, and all of Ward 5 will be in the 19th Suffolk.

  Before opening it up to discussion from the council, Kantor also noted that Ward 2 Councillor Ira Novoselsky had some issues with the redistricting, which, among other things, moves the Garfield School into Ward 1.

  “As you mentioned, I am not happy,” said Novoselsky when it came time for his input. “I am concerned about the small precinct of 2-3a; it shows that there are only 762 people that were accounted for in that precinct, and that doesn’t mean 762 voters.”

  Novoselsky asked why there would be a precinct that would be likely to turn out 100 voters.

  But the bigger bombshell, as far as the rest of the council was concerned, was when Novoselsky brought up a voting block on the map bounded by Waverly Avenue, North Shore Road, and Centennial Avenue that the census data showed had 67 voters.

  “Now, the way (Kantor) explained it to me, it’s that little block that shows 67 people, and nothing against the owner of the property, but that is Atlas Auto Body, which is an auto body shop,” said Novoselsky. “You don’t have 67 people living in that building; it’s a single building in that one little block.”

  Novoselsky said he was blaming the people who collected the census data for cheating and finding ways to add people to the roles in his ward.

  “I would ask for a federal investigation on that, because it is ridiculous that that is showing 67 people in that building; it’s impossible and you and the committee should go back and check that because it’s wrong, it’s absolutely wrong,” said Novoselsky.

  Kantor said he understood Novoselsky’s frustration, but noted several times that the city was working with numbers coming from the U.S. Commerce Department, and that it would be impossible to have the federal government launch an investigation and change data in three weeks.

  “There is no realistic way that the U.S. government is going to change the census data in the next three weeks in time for us to approve a map,” said Kantor. “I hope I am expressing that I am frustrated too, and I wish there was a way out of this, but I don’t actually have one.”

  Council President Anthony Zambuto said he was deeply concerned that the city was getting census data that apparently showed 67 people living in an auto body shop.

  “This is the kind of stuff I can’t stand,” Zambuto said. “I know there is a census and all, but if the census data was wrong, it’s got to be corrected and I don’t care how it’s corrected, but there are not 67 people living in that body shop. If that’s an example of the census and how it was done, God help us, this is ridiculous.”

  Ward 6 Councillor Richard Serino asked what would happen if the council did not approve a new map by the state deadline in order to sort out the data brought up by Novoselsky.

  “The accusation that there could be individuals who answered the census fraudulently, that’s a federal crime, so I don’t even know where to begin and what to do with that,” said Kantor. “The idea that we could solve this potential federal crime in the next three weeks seems unrealistic, and I’m not just saying that because I want you to do the things I want you to do.”

   Zambuto noted that another public hearing was scheduled for Thursday evening, Nov. 18 (after presstime) and that some of the issues could be sorted out at that meeting.

  Attorney Kate Cook of the redistricting committee said that at the moment, it was not clear if the accusations of the fraudulent counts were correct, and that if they were, they would be looked into.

  “We’re not in charge of the information, we are trying to help the City Council to do its job to approve the maps under its statutory requirements,” said Cook.

  Later in the evening, the council approved a motion by Councillor-At-Large George Rotondo asking for a state audit of the census data, pending any new information that could potentially have been presented on Thursday evening to help clear up the situation.

  Following Monday’s meeting, Kantor and election commissioner Diane Colella both confirmed that because 1605 North Shore Rd. is a commercial property, it wouldn’t be listed in the residential database as maintained by the Secretary of State’s office and that the city does not have any registered voters or residents listed at that address.

  Kantor said there is no correlation between the U.S. Census data and registered voters, nor is there no connection between the U.S. Census and the city census run by the elections department. He added that no residents are using that address as their city census address.

  Following the Monday evening hearing, Kantor said the city sent questions related to the 67 people to contacts at the U.S. Commerce Department, and had not received a response to those questions by 11:45 a.m. on Nov. 17.

  “The anomaly of the Atlas Auto Body being used as a U.S. Census address is notable because 67 people claim to live within a Census Block in which there are no residential structures, and Atlas is the only existing building on the entire Census Block,” said Kantor.  “This situation is not unique to Revere. The Secretary of State’s Office informed the city legal counsel that there were other similar anomalies found in other cities.”

  Kantor said there could be a number of possible explanations for populations being counted in a census block with no residential address. None of those explanations involve any form of fraud or impropriety on the part of city staff or grantees, he added.

  “In fact, this is not the first time that Revere residents used the Atlas Auto Body census block as their residence in a U.S. Census,” said Kantor. “The 2010 Census shows 35 people living at that block, and the 2000 Census with 57 people. So this issue goes back decades.”

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