Tonight the Providence City Council approved a $160 million bond referendum that will realize improvements in school infrastructure. The bond is a joint effort between the Providence City Council and Mayor Jorge O. Elorza.
City Council President David A. Salvatore stated, “As elected officials, we speak a lot about the importance of education in our community, but one of the most important factors of education is place. Our schools, most built in the last century, are in need of basic upgrades and some need even more complicated fixes. This bond will help to make Providence Schools into cutting-edge facilities that will serve a new generation of students.”
After tonight’s passage the bond will be sent to the Board of Canvassers to be placed on the November 6, 2018 ballot for consideration by the people of Providence.
Mayor Jorge O. Elorza stated, “In Providence, we’re prioritizing our school buildings, many that need critical improvements. This bond will allow us to make this investments so that our school facilities support our students learning for generations to come. A long-term investment of this magnitude is necessary and shows that both my administration and the Providence City Council are ‘All In’ for education here in the capital city.”
“I’m proud to support this initiative to help rehabilitate our schools to create a better environment for our students, teachers, and staff,” stated Majority Leader and Chairman of the Committee on Finance John J. Igliozzi. “I also want to ensure our constituents that we are being mindful of how taxpayer dollars are being spent; with that in mind, the Council will require a spending plan to be submitted for review and approval.”
On Thursday I introduced a proposed ordinance that would amend the City’s code of ordinances to limit occupancy of housing units to not more than four undergraduate students. This proposal’s intent was to address the serious upward pressure on housing costs resulting from certain housing units being effectively converted into dormitories or rooming house in our neighborhoods.
The four-undergraduate proposal was also designed to loosen existing city laws currently in effect prohibiting three students from occupying certain units, and to remove graduate students from the current prohibition. I opposed the ‘three-student’ rule when it passed before the council, stating it was improper to discriminate against those choosing to seek an education. My opposition to the three-person rule applies here to the four-person undergraduate proposal as well. In short, my introduction of the four-undergraduate student proposal was a mistake. A law that reduces the scope of discrimination, but still allows it to apply to others is not acceptable.
Today I submitted direction to the City Clerk to withdraw my name as sponsor of the four-undergraduate student proposal and requesting that it be withdraw from city council’s docket. I will not support it should it move forward. And I support the repeal of the current three-student rule as well. I remain very concerned about recent developments in our neighborhoods that continue to drive up housing costs for city residents – including new student rental models and the increase of room-sharing services such as Airbnb. I will continue to work the Council and the City’s Commission on Affordable Housing to address these challenges. However, any solution cannot be routed in discrimination based upon the identity or status of our renters.
Council President’s audit of past contract uncovers shady deal, entered into by Luis Aponte and improperly circumventing the competitive bidding process
Even though the City of Providence launched an online Providence City Open Meetings Portal in 2013 to provide easy access to the City’s public meetings, a former City Council President ordered the City Clerk in January of 2016 to execute a contract giving GoLocalProv $3,000 a month to publish city meeting notices.
Current City Council President David A. Salvatore uncovered the strange arrangement as part of an audit of past city contracts. Salvatore is now calling on GoLocalProv to return approximately $67,500 in payments made to the digital news website, as the contract was apparently structured to circumvent the City’s competitive bidding process. Salvatore also pointed to an unusual provision of the deal that seems to suggest GoLocalProv would provide Aponte with “relevant information” and “consult” with him regularly.
“On its face, this contract seems deliberately crafted to avoid the City’s competitive bidding process. The contract goes beyond any traditional media buy, requiring the media outlet to keep the City in the loop about relevant information,” said Salvatore. “When you have the City paying for a service it doesn’t need, the deal appears to be set up to skirt city purchasing requirements, and the owner of the company is a former City Councilman who should know the rules, it raises serious questions as to whether this was a blatant attempt to defraud the City.”
Salvatore added, “For that reason, I am calling on GoLocalProv to return the funds it received from the City and make a full accounting of what kind of ‘relevant information’ it was providing to former Council President Aponte. Was he getting tipped off to stories related to Providence City Hall? Was there an understanding he would receive positive coverage in exchange for this contract? GoLocalProv needs to explain why it agreed to some sort of consultation deal as a part of what should have been a simple advertising contract.”
Under the City’s Code of Ordinances, “all contracts for purchase of materials, supplies, services, equipment and property on behalf of the city, the price of consideration of which shall exceed five hundred dollars ($500.00) but amount to less than five thousand ($5,000.00) shall be made by the director of public property on the basis of three (3) or more informal competitive bids.” (Sec. 21-27) Salvatore noted that same section goes on to say any contracts “exceeding more than five thousand dollars ($5,000.00) shall be made by the boards of contract and supply on the basis of sealed bids.”
Salvatore said the contract contained traditional “Scope of Service” language but also included this unusual language:
“In order to effectively advocate the COMPANY’S interests, you have an affirmative obligation to cooperate with GoLocalProv during the course of this engagement.”
“In return, GoLocalProv agrees to keep COMPANY (the city) informed of relevant information and to consult with COMPANY regularly. Copies of significant correspondence, media coverage and relevant documents will be sent to COMPANY.”
Tonight City Council President David A. Salvatore and Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune introduced an amendment in support of Providence’s policy to ensure in the fullest possible participation of firms owned and controlled by minorities (MBEs) or women (WBEs) in City-funded and -directed public construction programs, as well as in municipal purchases of goods and services.
“Providence is a rich and diverse city, and more than half of our population is made up of women, so we should not be struggling to meet the 10% standard of doing business with MBEs and WBEs,” stated Council President David A. Salvatore. “We have committed to ensuring that we hire local, diverse, and skilled companies to serve the needs of our city and these amendments help to make it easier to do so.”
The amendment reforms the long-dormant Commission on Minority and Women Business Development, codifying its powers and duties and properly establishing staggered terms for its members. It also strengthens the role of the MBE/WBE Outreach Director,empowering that person to set internal Women and Minority Business Enterprise (WMBE) goals, track and report on MBE/WBE purchasing, conduct trainings for City staff, conduct outreach to MBEs/WBEs, establish and finally, adopt rules and regulations ensuring compliance and enforcement of the ordinance.
Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune stated, “As an immigrant, woman of color, and a mom to a daughter, it is imperative that we as elected officials work to lift up these local businesses that are run by minorities and women. Helping them find a path to success shows our children that we are committed to making our city a place where everyone can succeed despite the color of their skin, their sex, or their nation of origin.”
The amendment also updates its “summary of factual findings” section, which listed information from 1987-1990, and now includes data from the 2012 MWBE Procurement Task Force report. It also requires mandatory Council reviews of the MWBE ordinance and program beginning in 2020 and every 10 years thereafter.
Tonight Council President David A. Salvatore, Senior Deputy Majority Leader Nicholas J. Narducci, Jr., Deputy Majority Leader Wilbur W. Jennings Jr., and Councilman Michael Correia introduced a resolution creating a task force to study the impact of public utility work on Providence’s roads and sidewalks.
“It is the responsibility of the City to ensure the maintenance of safe and aesthetically pleasing roadways and sidewalks,” stated City Council President David A. Salvatore. “Occasionally we hear from constituents that the sidewalks and roadways around their homes have not been properly restored after work done by a public utility. This task force will come together to study, review, and make recommendations for improving the laws, policies, and procedures affecting the impact of public utility work on our roads and sidewalks to ensure that public utilities leave these areas in good order.”
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, 54% of Rhode Island’s public roads were rated as in “poor condition,” and Rhode Island’s drivers face costs of more than $800 per year from driving on roads in need of repair. Improved notification, coordination, and oversight procedures for street and sidewalk excavation by public utilities would lead to significant cost savings for taxpayers and utility companies, as well as greater convenience for residents.
“As a long-serving member of the Council I have always been committed to quality of life issues,” stated Senior Deputy Majority Leader Nicholas J. Narducci. “The state of our roadways and walkways can affect our property values and cause harm to both property and pedestrians alike. I’m very proud to support this effort to ensure these issues do not occur or are mitigated quickly.”
The issues surrounding the opening and excavation of streets and sidewalks are governed by both City ordinances and State statutes; are affected by the decisions of both public and private entities; and impact all who live, work, and visit Providence. Because the issue of street and sidewalk safety is of such great importance, the City Council will engage a broad group of stakeholders to adequately address these problems. And, as public servants and elected representatives of the people of Providence, the City Council has an obligation to ensure that roads and sidewalks are maintained in appropriate condition.
Deputy Majority Leader Wilbur J. Jennings shared, “Bringing together the key players will go a long way in achieving the goal set by the Council to ensure that all infrastructure work is completed timely and safely, and that any potential issues are dealt with quickly.”
The Task Force on the Impact of Public Utility Work on Providence’s Roads and Sidewalks will be comprised of:
Michael Borg, Director of the Department of Public Works (or designee)
Kevin Kugel, Director of the Providence Emergency Management Agency (or designee)
Cliff Wood, Executive Director of the Providence Foundation (or designee)
Scott Wolf, Executive Director of Grow Smart RI (or designee)
Two individuals appointed by Providence City Council President David A. Salvatore
Two individuals appointed by the Honorable Jorge Elorza, Mayor of Providence
A representative from National Grid
“The members of this task force will play an important role in helping create future protocols to protect the City and property owners,” stated Councilman Michael Correia. “Working with our utility partners to help form these protocols will ensure that all interests can be addressed. I look forward to seeing the good work this task force will accomplish.”