Providence, RI- Members of the Providence City Council held two committee meetings tonight to elect the chairs of the Committees on Urban Redevelopment Renewal and Planning and Rules.
Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11) was elected to serve as the Chairwoman of the Committee on Urban Redevelopment Renewal and Planning, which oversees the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) budget, street name changes, and ceremonial designations.
“I am honored to be leading this diverse and dynamic group of councilors. Improving the quality of life for the residents of the inner city has always been my passion, and I’m thrilled to bring much-needed funding and projects to the neighborhoods that need it most,” said Councilwoman Harris.
Majority Leader James Taylor (Ward 8) was elected to serve as the Chairman of the Rules Committee, which oversees the updating of the City Council guidelines.
“Maintaining a set of clear standards sets the tone for the entire city council term. I look forward to reviewing our current guidelines and working with my fellow committee members to modernize our rulebook and implement any necessary changes,” said Councilman Taylor.
Councilwoman Nirva R. LaFortune (Ward 3), Council President Pro Tempore Pedro Espinal (Ward 10), Majority Leader James Taylor (Ward 8), Senior Deputy Majority Leader Nicholas J. Narducci Jr. (Ward 4), Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11), Majority Whip Carmen Castillo (Ward 9), Councilor David Salvatore (Ward 14), Councilwoman Helen Anthony (Ward 2), Councilwoman Kat Kerwin (Ward 12), and Councilman John Goncalves (Ward 1), penned a letter to Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee regarding the state’s response to the recent uptick in cases of COVID-19.
This evening, the Providence City Council voted unanimously to approve a Providence Home Rule Charter Section 403 resolution to bring charges against City Clerk Shawn Selleck, and to seek his suspension or removal from office. The resolution charges Mr. Selleck with the following:
· Violations of the City Code of Conduct
· Violations of the City Anti-bullying Policy
· Violations of the City Anti-harassment Policy
· Violations of the City Workplace Violence Policy
· Creation of a Toxic Work Environment
· Inappropriate Management
The charges contained in the resolution are based on an independent investigation conducted by respected employment and labor attorney Carly Iafrate, which determined Mr. Selleck violated the City’s Code of Conduct, Anti-Bullying, Anti-Harassment, and Workforce Violence policies through a pattern of bullying, confrontational, and intimidating behavior that created a toxic work environment within the City Clerk’s office.
Pursuant to Section 403, these charges will be presented in writing to the Mayor and Mr. Selleck, and after a 30-day period, the Council will call a public hearing to weigh the charges and vote on the suspension or removal of the City Clerk (two-thirds vote of the Council required).
At tonight’s City Council meeting, Councilors Helen Anthony (Ward 2), Nirva LaFortune (Ward 3) and John Goncalves (Ward 1) proposed a resolution calling for a review of Mayor Jorge Elorza’s license agreement with the charter school Achievement First, which grants the charter school use of space in a City-owned elementary school. The resolution describes how the execution of license agreement did not follow the required public process outlined in Section 416 (6) of the City Charter which requires a resolution of the City Council to enter into a lease of a City building. This resolution was passed by the full council.
“With the current state of Providence’s school system, City leaders should all be working together to ensure that major decisions such as this license agreement are carefully considered and deliberated. It is customary for the City Council to review any lease of City property, and it is in the best interest of Mayor Elorza, Achievement First and all Providence students for the Council to take the time to properly vet this agreement,” stated Councilwoman Helen Anthony (Ward 2).
According to the City Charter, any lease of City owned property must be authorized by the City Council. Mayor Elorza entered into a license agreement wherein Achievement First will rent a portion of the property located at the Charles M. Fortes Elementary school for the purpose of operating a charter school at this location beginning in September. The City Council was not given the opportunity to review or approve this agreement prior to it being finalized.
“The City Council is the legislative body of the City of Providence. We are here to provide an open, democratic process for the City’s development and initiatives. It is disappointing that the mayoral administration did not initially reach out for Council input on a plan which involves the lease of valuable public property. We are calling on the administration to comply with the City Charter and allow for due process,” added Councilman John Goncalves (Ward 1).
In March of 2015, the City Council reviewed a similar situation, in which The International Charter School was being considered to lease the Windmill Street School building. This request was communicated by the City’s Director of Public Property to the City Council. The Council’s Committee on City Property reviewed the request and reported back to the full Council, which voted to against the lease agreement.
“Moving forward, communication and transparency between our City’s governing bodies should be a priority. As a City Council, we cannot fulfill our duties if we cannot work collaboratively with the Mayor and other City departments. While charter schools remain a contentious issue in our city, this is also a matter of principle and good government. We are committed to adhering to the requirements set forth by the city charter, which provides the foundation of our city government,” added Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune.
Approved budget contains no tax increases and uses $42 million in stimulus funds for small business relief, youth investments, free public Internet access, and more.
Tonight, the Providence City Council voted to approve a $539 million FY 2022 City Budget including $42 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to address both immediate needs created by the COVID-19 pandemic and longer-term investments that will pay dividends for years to come. The budget holds the line on residential and commercial property taxes, while funding key City services that residents expect and deserve.
Tonight’s vote to approve the FY 2022 City budget follows 5 weeks and more than 11 Finance Committee hearings to receive input from the Mayor’s office, Council members, and city residents and community organizations.
“I want to thank my colleagues on the City Council and Mayor Elorza for working collaboratively to put together and pass this budget that invests in our city at a time of great challenge for our residents,” said City Council President John J. Igliozzi. “Developing this budget during the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge. Through months of hearings, we have heard just how hard hit our families, small businesses, and community organizations have been by the health and economic impacts of COVID-19. To address these needs, I am pleased that we are able to utilize $42 million in ARPA funds to invest in summer programming for our youth, early learning programs, free public internet access at parks and recreation centers, anti-violence programs, homeless interventions, street sweeping and sewer repairs, our public libraries, and relief for our small businesses. In addition, this budget continues to invest in core City services including inspections and public safety, while holding the line on taxes.”
Continued Igiozzi, “I also want to highlight this budget’s investment in public safety, which will provide the staffing and resources necessary to respond to criminal activity and to keep the people of our city safe. Talking with residents, many have said they are worried about a rise in crime and support smart investments in our police department, as well as substantive reforms to address community concerns about some policing practices. That is why this budget includes funding for recruitment of new police officers to protect our neighborhoods, and also creates a new Community Relations and Diversion Services Major position within the police department to resolve public safety issues that would be better dealt with through outreach and partnerships with City agencies and community-based organizations.”
“During this time of great need, I am pleased that my colleagues on the City Council and Mayor Elorza have worked together to pass a budget that helps our residents, small businesses, and community organizations get through the COVID-19 pandemic, while making long term investments in our city,” said Councilwoman and Finance Chair Jo-Ann Ryan. “I am particularly pleased that this budget provides $7 million in direct relief for Providence’s small businesses, invests in early education for our youth, and invests in basic City services like public safety and housing and building safety inspections to address quality of life issues.”
FY 2022 City budget highlights include:
•No property tax increases.
•Invests in the Department of Inspections and Standards to deal with quality-of-life issues.
•Invests in the Department of Public Property to hire additional personnel to handle projects in a more efficient and timely fashion.
•Creates a new Department of Equity and Inclusion.
•Invests in public safety, including expansion of diversion efforts, creating anti-violence programs, and provisions to fund recruitment of new Providence Police officers.
•Continues to invest in City parks with a portion of Tax Stabilization revenue going to the Parks and Recreation fund.
•Provides an additional $300,000 for Providence Community Centers for programs that qualify for American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) resources.
•Creates a new Community Relations and Diversion Services Major position within the Providence Police Department.
•10% of tax revenue from projects with a Tax Stabilization Agreement (TSA) will be dedicated to supporting debt service on the $25M Providence Redevelopment Agency Special Obligation Bond that funded the Providence Housing Trust in FY21.
•Invests $350,000 to expand the number of pre-kindergarten classrooms in Providence, increasing access to quality early learning programs.
•Invests ARPA funds for night basketball, recreational center programs for our youths, free internet access at our largest parks and recreation centers, sewer repair fund, and a $7 million small business relief fund.
The City Council unanimously approved a resolution introduced by Council Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris which calls for action on the growing homelessness crisis and adjacent affordable housing crisis in Providence.
“The homelessness crisis in our city needs to be immediately addressed. Providence’s homeless residents deserve a rapid expansion in temporary shelter space in the city, so that there are places where people can go to have safe and dignified living conditions until they are able to find permanent affordable housing. We have the resources to provide safe and reliable temporary housing, and there is no excuse for delay,” stated Councilwoman Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11).
The Council resolution calls on the Mayor to work with state and local partners to find the necessary funding to quickly expand the amount of temporary shelter space and affordable housing opportunities that are available to individuals suffering from homelessness in the city.
“Homelessness results from a combination of factors, but the lack of affordable housing options, made even more challenging as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic—has deepened the problem. I have been working to address affordable housing and homelessness on the Council and in my community for years. We must continue our efforts to expand opportunities for affordable housing in Providence as a long-term solution to homelessness,” added Councilwoman Harris.
Earlier this year, the Council capitalized the Affordable Housing Trust Fund with over $20 million to help finance, construct, and maintain affordable housing units throughout the city. Tonight’s resolution reaffirms the Council’s commitment to addressing the affordable housing crisis in the city which the resolution cites exacerbating the prevalence of homelessness in our communities.
Councilwoman Jo-Ann Ryan (Ward 5) who led the effort to grow the Housing Trust Fund through the bond issue, said that, “The City needs a plan to address the immediate homelessness crisis, while investing thoughtfully in long-term affordable housing solutions. The Affordable Housing Trust Fund has been a priority of mine, and I look forward to using it to provide housing security for Providence residents.”