Providence City Council President Sabina Matos Announces Decennial Ward Boundary Committee
The Committee Will be the Most Diverse in the Council’s History
Providence City Council President Sabina Matos (Ward 15) tonight announced the creation of the Decennial Ward Boundary Committee, which for the first time in twenty years will be comprised of not only City Councilors but Providence residents as well.
“When I set out to form the Decennial Ward Boundary Committee I was clear that I wanted it to be a combination of sitting Councilors and Providence residents that would each bring a different perspective to how we shape our City’s voting districts with the goal to ensure a fair, inclusive and equitable process in determining the new ward boundaries committees,” stated Council President Sabina Matos. “I also wanted it to be as diverse as possible – including representatives from the African American community and the LGBTQIA+ community to ensure that we had a true cross-section of our diverse population. It’s also notable that the committee is led by a female majority – another first in the Council’s history.”
Every ten years, the City Council is responsible for revising and establishing the City’s ward boundaries. In order to accomplish this task, the Providence Home Rule Charter requires the City Council to convene a Committee on Ward Boundaries that will recommend new ward boundaries based on the most recent United States Census data. The Committee must be comprised of five members who are either members of the Council or qualified individuals who reside within the City of Providence.
In constructing the map of new ward boundaries, the committee on ward boundaries and the city council must insure that the boundaries are drawn in accordance with the following criteria:
(1) Equality of ward populations so far as practicable;
(2) Contiguousness of the territory of each ward;
(3) Wards shall comply with the federal Voting Rights Act (42 U.S.C. Sec. 1971 and following).
(4) The geographic integrity of local neighborhood; and
(5) Geographical compactness such that nearby areas of population are not bypassed for more distant populations.
The Charter requires that the committee hold at least four public meetings, during which public comment will be accepted before creating a proposed map of ward boundaries. After the final plan is completed, it is then submitted to the full Council with a written report of findings and reasons for adoption, which will include: notation of all criteria employed in the process, a full analysis of their work, and a detailed explanation of the committee’s decisions. After these items are received, the City Council must host a public hearing before the plan can be adopted.
The Decennial Ward Boundary Committee will be comprised of:
Senior Deputy Majority Leader Nicholas J. Narducci Jr., who has served on the City Council since 2006 and whose term will end in December 2022, is an ideal choice for his institutional experience. As a lifelong resident of Providence, his knowledge of the City is unparalleled. Councilman Narducci represents the North End and part of the Wanskuck neighborhoods of Providence.
Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris, who was elected to the City Council in 2014, has strong roots in South Providence. She knows the neighborhoods and the south side of the City like no other. Her long and storied career is one of true resilience from being a welder to a community advocate. Her ongoing work to create genuinely affordable housing in Providence will be valuable skills in creating the new ward boundaries. Councilwoman Harris represents the neighborhoods of Upper South Providence and part of the West End.
Councilor Rachel Miller was elected to the City Council in 2018 and has been a fierce advocate for workers’ rights, equitable development, racial and environmental justice. Originally from New York, Miller moved to Providence in 2003 and quickly became involved in the community. She has been a vocal community activist and has worked to amplify the diverse voices of her community. She represents the historic Federal Hill and part of the West End neighborhoods.
Jessica Cigna has lived in Providence since 2007 and lives on the East Side of Providence. She is a senior data analyst with over 20 years of significant experience relating to the research and application of social policies, including the connections between education, housing, health, the social safety net, family economic success, neighborhood change, and revitalization. She serves on several community organization boards, and her skill set will be ideal in crafting the decennial ward boundary map.
Nick Freeman is a lifelong Providence native and currently lives in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood of the City. Nick brings with him a wealth of historical knowledge related to the City Council, where he served the body for 11 years as a policy and research analyst and then as the manager of policy and research. He currently is the assistant director at The Providence Foundation, where he advocates for policies and projects for the development of downtown and the City. His vast knowledge of the City Council and its various wards will be a great asset to the committee.
Council President Sabina Matos continued, “I believe that this cohort of exceptional committee members are ready to take on this historical task which will shape how our City is governed for the next decade. Further, I know they will do so engaging and listening with humility and with the best interest of our residents at the core of every decision they propose.”
Providence City Council Hires Paul J. Fox III as Chief of Staff
Fox brings more than a decade of experience working with city leaders
Providence City Council President Sabina Matos today announced a new chief of staff to support the work of the 15-member Council. Paul J. Fox, III (P.J.) will begin on Monday, December 21, 2020.
“We are excited to welcome P.J. to our team,” stated Council President Sabina Matos. “His career has been dedicated to serving the residents of Providence and helping make our city a safe and welcoming place for everyone to live and work. I look forward to working together to move the work of the Council and the City of Providence forward. As we begin this new chapter, I would be remiss if I did not thank Doris De Los Santos for serving as the interim chief of staff during this period. This is not an easy role to fill, and she stepped in and handled it with grace, and I am indebted to her for all she has done to keep our office running.”
The Chief of Staff to the Providence City Council is entrusted with the management of the Council Staff, City Clerk’s Office, City Treasurer’s Office, City Archives, and Municipal and Probate Courts. Additionally, their role supports the 15 elected City Councilors and their work. They engage with stakeholders across all sectors and will work to strengthen the City’s COVID-19 response and recovery.
Paul J. Fox III shared, “I am grateful for the opportunity to join the City Council team. I look forward to helping Council members serve the residents of Providence, especially as we continue to navigate these challenging times due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Most recently, Fox served as the executive director of the Nonviolence Institute. He also sits on the Board of Directors of Providence Sports and Leadership, a youth leadership development organization. Fox is also the Vice- President of the Providence St. Patrick’s Day Parade and is a member of the Providence Rotary Club. He is a graduate of the University of Rhode Island with a degree in Political Science.
Tonight, the City Council voted to approve the refunding of the City’s bond portfolio. The refunding of bonds is much like the refinancing of homes, providing efficiency and better interest rates, which yield savings.
“I want to thank the Committee on Finance, our Council finance team, and the City’s finance team for their dedication to ensuring that we are doing what we can, when we can, to help address our pension liability. It is not always easy but finding savings to help address our fiscal obligations is paramount,” stated Council President Sabina Matos (Ward 15).
The 2010 bond’s refunding will realize more than $1.3 million in net savings for the City of Providence and will not extend the life of the bond, nor will it cause the City to incur an increase in its financial obligations.
“Refunding bonds at this time is an important cash management tool,” stated Chairman of the Committee on Finance and Majority Whip John J. Igliozzi, Esq. (Ward 7). “It is what you do with the savings that are realized from refunding that is important. The Committee has wisely and clearly stated that the funds should go toward the City’s pension fund. This will provide some relief to our more than billion-dollar unfunded pension liability. The Committee on Finance are stewards of the City’s finances, and it is mission-critical that we remain laser-focused on these long-term obligations.”
The City Council has directed the City’s Finance Director to ensure that any net savings from the refunding of the bonds will be used to pay a pension payment above one hundred percent of the Annual Required Contribution and cannot supplant any pension payment. Guaranteeing the additional $1.3 million in savings from the bond refunding go towards the City’s outstanding pension liability.
Vice-Chair of the Committee on Finance and City Council Majority Leader Jo-Ann Ryan (Ward 5) shared, “With the current low interest rate environment, the City is wise to be proactive in its bond management strategy. Directing the realized savings towards our pressing long-term fiscal obligations makes good sense. The Committee on Finance has an obligation to our taxpayers to be fiscally responsible and prudent with these funds. Ensuring that savings are put towards the City’s pension is an important step in that direction.”
The resolution was passed tonight by the City Council and will allow for the City to refund the bonds before the end of the calendar year.
Tonight, Council President Sabina Matos (Ward 15), Majority Leader Jo-Ann Ryan (Ward 5), Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11), and Councilman John Goncalves (Ward 1) were lead sponsors of a resolution addressing the Rhode Island Community Food Banks’ recently released annual Status Report on Hunger, which highlighted the significant hardship Rhode Islanders are facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The resolution is co-sponsored by President Pro Tempore Michael Correia (Ward 6), Senior Deputy Majority Leader Nicholas J. Narducci Jr. (Ward 4), Finance Chairman John J. Igliozzi Esq. (Ward 7), Councilwoman Carmen Castillo (Ward 9), Councilwoman Nirva R. LaFortune (Ward 3), Councilwoman Helen Anthony (Ward 2) Councilman James Taylor (Ward 8), Councilwoman Katherine Kerwin (Ward 12) and Councilman Pedro Espinal (Ward 10).
The Rhode Island Community Food Banks’ annual Status Report on Hunger found that one in four Rhode Island households lack adequate food, which is the highest rate the agency has seen in over two decades. The report noted that food insecurity levels are highest in Black and Latinx communities, which are the very same communities that have been hardest hit by the global pandemic. Due to this overwhelming demand, the Community Food Banks has increased its food distribution by 1.6 million pounds (a 45% increase from before the pandemic).
“This is not just a Rhode Island problem,” stated Council President Sabina Matos. “What the COVID-19 pandemic has done in this Country is exacerbated the already demanding need for food not just in Rhode Island but in every state. It has also shone a light on the massive inequities in our society, where nearly 5.3 million more Americans are unemployed today than they were in February of this year. Rhode Island was not immune to that alarming statistic, which is why in the early days of the pandemic, I reached out to George Ortiz of The Elisha Project to work with the Council to help bring food to Providence’s most struggling communities. Through our partnership with the Elisha Project, the Council hosted 24 food distribution events across the City. We were able to provide approximately 816 thousand pounds of culturally appropriate nutritious meals or the equivalent of 680 thousand meals to our most vulnerable residents. We owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Ortiz for the work he is doing in Rhode Island and Massachusetts to address the food insecurity that too many families are facing.”
The resolution is calling on the Federal government to pass another COVID-19 relief bill that would bring back the supplemental unemployment compensation and boost SNAP benefits for individuals until the pandemic subsides. It also calls for the USDA to provide Pandemic-EBT benefits for all children from low-income families when schools are closed.
Majority Leader Jo-Ann Ryan stated, “This is an alarming statistic; if more than one in four people statewide are food insecure as stated in this recent report, we know the ratio is much higher in our urban core. The City Council initiative to provide immediate assistance to our struggling families is an admirable local level effort. However, we need a COVID Relief Bill passed in Washington without delay. While our federal delegation has been leading the charge in Washington, we need federal relief. The United States Senate has had the opportunity to pass the $2.2 trillion HEROES Act since May and has failed to do so. The stimulus package that my colleagues and I call for in this resolution will not just help those facing food insecurity, but will also address the nearly 20 million renters at risk of losing their homes. It has been eight months since the Senate and House passed the CARES Act, and it is time to put Country over party and pass the HEROES Act to protect our most vulnerable residents.”
Additionally, the resolution calls on the Rhode Island Department of Health and Human Services to implement a comprehensive SNAP outreach program to help newly unemployed Rhode Islanders enroll and gain access to these much-needed services.
“The RI Food Bank report also critically highlights that food insecure Rhode Islanders are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 due to prevalent underlying medical conditions,” stated Councilman John Goncalves. “Additionally, it makes clear the racial and ethnic disparities that exist related to food insecurity, and the fact that disabled adults also experience a higher risk for food insecurity due to healthcare-related expenses and limited employment opportunities which further exacerbate already existing health and economic disparities.
We are seeing record levels of demand from food-insecure Providence and Rhode Island residents, low-income families and children, which demonstrates that critical funding and assistance is needed now, more than ever, to address widespread hunger in our communities.”
The resolution also urges the Rhode Island General Assembly to support Governor Gina Raimondo’s call for increased funding for the Rhode Island Community Food Bank.
Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris stated, “I know what it is to be hungry. I know what it is to decide between buying food for my family and paying the light bill. Our neighbors need help. We live in the land of plenty, but until we have plenty for all, we have plenty for none. I applaud the Elisha Project, the Rhode Island Food Bank, and the work that so many are doing in the City, the State, and across the nation to address food insecurity. But, as the poet Robert Frost so eloquently stated, we have miles to go before we sleep, and this is no time to sleep. Our neighbors here in Providence, and in every city and town in our state and across the country need help. I, like my colleagues, urge the United States Senate to pass the HEROES Act now before they end their session.”
The City Council passed the resolution, and copies of the resolution will be sent to each member of Rhode Island’s congressional delegation, Governor Gina Raimondo, Director Courtney Hawkins of the Rhode Island Department of Human Services, and to the members of the Providence delegation of the Rhode Island General Assembly.
About the Elisha Project:
The Elisha Project is a movement that is focused on bringing diverse communities together through service, sharing, teaching, and learning. With the mission of addressing food insecurity and operating by the motto, “There is Always Enough to Share.”
Today, City Council President Sabina Matos, Chief Judge Frank Caprio of the Providence Municipal Court, and Mayor Jorge O. Elorza announced an amnesty program of all non-moving and environmental violations in the City of Providence until January 31, 2021.
“Due to the ongoing health crisis, we must act to help our residents in whatever ways we can,” stated City Council President Sabina Matos. “The Municipal Courts fall under the jurisdiction of the Council, and by waving the penalties on fees that have accrued for residents, we are providing them with a little extra financial help during this difficult time.”
The amnesty program only applies to violations that double and triple due to non-payment, such as environmental, parking, and other non-moving violations. Individuals or entities with a fine must pay in-person at the Providence Safety Complex, located at 325 Washington Street, on the first floor. No online or phone payments will be accepted for this program.
“We know many of our residents have been making tough decisions in order to survive the impacts of COVID-19 ,” said Mayor Jorge O. Elorza “While we continue to find innovative ways to adjust our way of life, keep our businesses open, and work towards recovery, I am proud to work with the Providence City Council to offer another form of relief for our residents.”
Those who have existing fines will only be required to pay the base fine. Individuals or entities with four or more fines must also pay a $35 court processing fee. This program does not apply to any resident or entity with an environmental fine in collections or any previous municipal court judgments.
Chief Judge Frank Caprio stated, “Our residents are enduring so much right now, and we have the ability to provide direct relief to them through this program. We have thousands of residents out of work, and their ability to pay escalating fines directly impedes their ability to put food on their table and pay other important life-sustaining bills.”
Individuals or entities that do not take advantage of this program before February 1, 2021, will lose the ability to renew their license or vehicle registration, as it will be blocked by the RI Department of Motor Vehicle (RIDMV).
Again, all payments must be made in-person as no online or telephone payments will be accepted.
At this evening’s City Council meeting, the Council passed a resolution establishing this amnesty program. The resolution was proposed by Council President Sabina Matos (Ward 15) and co-sponsored by Council President Pro Tempore Michael Correia (Ward 6), Majority Leader Jo-Ann Ryan (Ward 5), Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11), Councilor David A. Salvatore (Ward 14), Councilwoman Carmen Castillo (Ward 9), Councilwoman Nirva R. LaFortune (Ward 3), Councilwoman Helen Anthony (Ward 2), Councilman James Taylor (Ward 8), Councilwoman Katherine Kerwin (Ward 12), Councilman Pedro Espinal (Ward 10) and Councilman John Goncalves (Ward 1).
Councilwoman Carmen Castillo (Ward 9) introduced a resolution at tonight’s City Council meeting calling for the formation of a Special Commission on All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) and Recreational Vehicle Enforcement. Off-road vehicles are currently banned from operating on city streets as they are not designed to be street legal. The use of these off-road machines creates significant safety hazards for the public and the off-road vehicles’ operators. The resolution is co-sponsored by Council President Sabina Matos (Ward 15), Council President Pro Tempore Michael Correia (Ward 6), Council Majority Leader Jo-Ann Ryan (Ward 5) Senior Deputy Majority Leader Nicholas J. Narducci Jr. (Ward 4), Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11), Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune (Ward 3) Councilwoman Helen Anthony (Ward 2), Councilman James E. Taylor (Ward 8 ), Councilman Pedro Espinal (Ward 10) and Councilman John Goncalves (Ward 1).
“The illegal operation of ATVs and dirt bikes in Providence has quickly become a serious quality of life issue for the residents of Providence over the past several weeks, and has raised serious concerns from motorists, pedestrians, and residents alike,” stated Councilwoman Carmen Castillo. “On October 18, 2020, during a response to a large gathering of motorcycles, dirt bikes, and ATVs in the City, there was an incident involving a Providence Police Department vehicle and a moped which resulted in a young man, 24-year-old Jhamal Gonsalves, sustaining significant injuries that left him in a coma. This incident has shined a light on the danger and risks associated with enforcing these vehicles’ use here in Providence. As elected officials, we have an obligation to ensure the safety of our residents, and I believe by reviewing our policies and procedures, we can find solutions to the challenges we are facing.”
It has become increasingly clear that the City must undertake a comprehensive review of how Providence enforces its laws, practices, and policies governing off-road recreational vehicles, which is why Councilwoman Castillo is calling on the City Council to establish this Special Commission on ATVs and Recreational Vehicles. The Commission will be charged with studying and making recommendations regarding the City’s current enforcement practices and making recommendations regarding appropriate changes to City procedures, ordinances, and policies to prevent the operation of ATVs and recreational vehicles on the City’s streets.
Councilman John Goncalves shared, “I applaud the Council for supporting this resolution to figure out more meaningful, creative, and robust solutions to further address this. Residential neighborhoods in all parts of our city to have been affected by this ongoing issue and I look forward to working collaboratively with my council colleagues and community members to determine creative mechanisms to ensure the utmost safety of Providence residents.”
The Special Commission on All Terrain Vehicles will consist of not more than seven members, including the Commissioner of Public Safety or his designee, one member appointed by the Mayor, and five members to be appointed by the Council President.
“I am in full support of this initiative,” stated Senior Deputy Majority Leader Nicholas J. Narducci Jr. “We must work together to find the solutions that our residents are demanding to end the illegal use of these vehicles on our streets.”
Councilwoman Castillo continued, “If we are to create changes in the behavior of our residents, we must work with our community to understand their needs and how we can safely and legally allow for the use of these vehicles within our City. Currently, there is no designated area for their uses, and riders are risking their lives and the lives of others by riding them through our neighborhoods. I hope this Special Commission can create actionable steps for us to protect and preserve our quality of life, but also find outlets for residents who wish to use ATVs and dirt bikes legally and safely.”
The Special Commission will be tasked with issuing a report of recommendations to the City Council within 120 days of the date appointments are made to the Commission.