With every tap at her computer keyboard, Lorraine Corey is working to inform taxpayers of Woonsocket. Her website, mywoonsocket.com combines the organization of a library with the savvy of a modern researcher (with programming skills, to boot.) The dedication she shows to the task would seem remarkable if not overshadowed by a fact even more amazing: she's a volunteer to the job.
The 50-something grandmother is the one-person team behind mywoonsocket.com, a website crammed with news and data concerning city and state finances, budgets, proposed cuts, and taxes. Agendas for upcoming city meetings are posted reliably each upcoming week.
"My website is dedicated to the taxpayers of Woonsocket," Corey says when asked to describe her project. "The whole purpose is to keep the residents of the city informed. It's not so much about being a watchdog. If you want to fight the fight, you have to know the rules."
Much of what's posted is pure, unfiltered data produced by City Hall departments or state agencies, including the city charter and city ordinances. There's also a spot for visitors' comments, as well as links to news stories published by Woonsocket Patch, The Call, The Providence Journal and The Valley Breeze. Determined to keep personalities and grandstanding out of the debate, Corey omits even her own name from the website.
Launched six months ago, the site is a roaring success. The hit count (internet jargon for visitor tally) sometimes tops 4,000 a day, a number that includes city officials, journalists, activists from every corner, and ordinary, everyday Woonies.
"Lorraine is doing a great job," says Mayor Leo Fontaine, a fan of the website. "Any source of additional information is good for the debate. From the local level to the national level, people need to be more involved, and for that to happen, they have to know what's going on."
Were it not for the technology involved, Corey's project seems like something from another age, with a message at odds with today's culture. Let’s face it: With the lingering economic woes, America has turned downright nasty. At the national, state, and municipal level, public debate is at a low point, dominated by backbiting and finger pointing.
Corey marches to a different drum, never forgetting that everyone she addresses online is a neighbor here in Woonsocket. Listen to her talk about the current discussion over Fire Department staffing, and you know that she's earnest about hearing both sides.
"My dad was a firefighter, so I have a soft spot for them," she says. "I know what their families go through. But I'm also a taxpayer, and I'm not sure how far we can go. Where do we make the cuts? How do we support everything? . . . Sometimes I wonder how the mayor and the city council make sense of it all."
The North End resident first started following local government in the spring of 2009, when city officials were debating ways to address the Woonsocket’s fiscal woes. One proposed solution was a supplemental property tax. Corey was outraged to learn that her family and other Woonsocket homeowners could be slapped with another bill.
"Before that, I was pretty much ignorant about what was going on," she says. "When it hits you in the pocket book, you wake up."
Corey got involved with the Woonsocket Taxpayers Coalition and began attending City Council meetings, where she joined with other activists in demanding budget cuts. Eventually the supplemental tax proposal was shot down.
The experience taught her that while issues are seldom black and white, that's no excuse for giving up. "You start to understand why some things can't be done," she says. "But you also start learning there are things that can be done."
In the months that followed Corey found herself facing several personal issues and temporarily put aside civic concerns. But last fall she decided she was ready to resume her activist role. This time, though, she would take a different route.
"I thought, why not a website?” she says. “When I first became involved in city issues, I spent hours and hours researching. I was constantly looking for information about the city charter, about state laws, about the School Department. I thought, other people are doing the same thing -- why not put all the information on a website, where everyone can find it."
She quickly decided against writing commentary herself. "I'm not a reporter," she says. "I received an e-mail from someone at a local paper, and he called me 'a clearinghouse for news.' That's exactly right. What I do is check other internet sources, pick what I feel is important to the taxpayer, and put up a link."
Corey pays about $100 a year for website hosting, using the service Godaddy.com. All expenses come out of her own bank account, as she has never considered advertising. "I don't want to answer to anyone else," she explains. "And I won't endorse candidates. That way it remains an unbiased website."
Corey's work experience includes 14 years in radio, first as a salesperson at WNRI and later as manager of the then-sister station WKRI in Warwick. Today she spends much of her time doting on seven grandchildren, five children, and her husband Dennis Corey.
She also works part-time at Walt's Clothing, the store on Cumberland Hill Road that specializes in work clothes. The first website she created was a 10-page catalog for the business. "Three years ago I told my boss, you have to come into the 21st century, and he told me, go ahead and put together a site,” she recalls.
Corey does her website work on a desktop computer in a small den in her North End home. She's a self-taught techie with a bookshelf crammed full with do-it-your-self computer guides, many bearing the "For Dummies" logo.
"I hate to call mywoonsocket.com a hobby, because I'm serious about it," she says. "A hobby is something you can put aside for awhile and pick up again later. With the website, there are days I don't feel like looking up news and posting things, but I do it."