Category Archives: City Issues

This Spring, I have written letters to constituents concerning recent devleopments in the City and the City Council.My May 10 letter (link here: 5-10_Budget_and_Dog_Ordinance.pdf) provides an overview of the Mayor’s budget and a discussion of the controversy involving access of dogs to City parks.

November 11 Ward Letter

This Veterans’ Day weekend allows us to honor the memory of our fellow citizens who have defended our country over years, which is the best way to remember a day otherwise known for marking the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended the first world war, which proved to be an object lesson in the initial failure of diplomacy to avoid a pointless war, the brutality and horror of new battlefield tactics, and a failure of diplomacy to establish any kind of stable peace.  This week’s ward letter discusses the Nicholson Estate subdivision, the Hope Point tower project and the smoking ban ordinance.  

Download a pdf copy.

The Nicholson Estate at 288 Blackstone Boulevard consists of a mansion sitting on 3 acres of ground.  A developer proposes to raze the mansion and subdivide the property into 10 lots.  You can click here to view the Current Conditions and Proposed Project.  The developer and builder met with residents last week, and answered questions.  The builder is completing a development on Balton Road that neighbors have criticized because of the arrangement of houses close to the road on lots that seem too small.  The developer claims that the proposed project will be less crowded due to the larger size of the house lots (most in excess of 10,000 square feet), but offered no promises about the actual design of the houses, as each person who purchases a lot can make an individual decision.  The developer said the large house is not marketable, due to its poor condition, and the floor plan is not amenable to preservation as condos (which itself would require separate approval).  Given that the property is not in a local preservation district, there appears to be no clear source of local regulation to prevent the subdivision from being approved in its current form, but the developer agreed to look into a proposal by one neighbor to rearrange the houses to front on an internal road, with their back yards facing the external wall.  The City Plan Commission had been scheduled to review the project on November 13, but now it appears that the matter will be continued to the Commission’s December 18 meeting.

At its meeting this past Thursday, the City Council’s Ordinance Committee voted to recommend approval of the Hope Point Tower project.  Given the fact that the same committee previously had voted to recommend against approval, and that the recent supplemental public hearing provided no significant additional information, one can question the policy reason for some Committee members to switch their votes.  For that matter, the decision to hold a second public hearing itself set a bad precedent, as it was held based on the developer’s claim that he had not received an appropriate invitation to the first hearing.  Prior to this one, developers always attended these hearings without a formal invitation, as they understood the need to demonstrate interest in receiving City Council approval for their application.  By holding a second hearing for this particular project, the City Council effectively established a new procedure whereby all developers will have an incentive to stay away from the public hearing, learn what was said at it, and then request a second hearing if they are not pleased with the outcome of the first one.  (At this point, even if the City Council invites the developer to the first hearing, we can anticipate new objections, such as the invitation did not provide sufficient notice, was not properly worded, etc.)  More generally, from my review of the second hearing record (and Councilman Principe’s cogently stated objections) there does not appear to be a clear reason for taking a comprehensive plan and zoning code that was developed over years, and throwing them aside for a single project.  The City Council will review the proposed zoning change at its November 15 meeting.

Last June, the City Council approved an ordinance imposing a smoking ban in Kennedy Plaza.  While ostensibly promoted for health reasons, the main proponent was the business community, which believed that the smoking ban would serve to reduce the number of homeless people who populate the plaza, thereby making the area more acceptable to the business people who work nearby.  I voted in favor of the smoking ban, which the Mayor vetoed.  When the City Council considered a vote to override a veto, I offered a compromise; namely, to limit the duration of the smoking ban to change the culture in the Kennedy Plaza neighborhood, but to end it on a date certain because it appeared to criminalize poverty.  I discussed this compromise with Mr. Paolino, and we reached a handshake agreement that he would support a time limitation of October 1, 2018 if I voted to override the veto.  I voted to override, and introduced legislation to “sunset” the smoking ban as of October 1, 2018.  When the Ordinance Committee rejected this compromise based on a stated need for “data,” I asked Mr. Paolino to write a letter explaining his support of the “sunset” without data, as he previously had agreed.  When he denied my request, I wrote Mr. Paolino a letter urging him to keep his word, given the damage that the City suffers when business people fail to keep their word.  He sent a reply that essentially accepted the fact of a handshake agreement he had not honored, but which offered reasons (based on the actions of other people) for why he believed he was justified in not honoring the agreement he reached.  I do not find that position to be particularly responsive or convincing, but nonetheless I see an opportunity.  Currently there is a stalemate between business owners who support having a smoking ban on the books, and an administration that is unwilling to enforce it vigorously.  It therefore seems worthwhile to consider a temporary smoking ban that is more actively enforced.  This would not be a complete victory for either side, but it could be both a reasonable compromise and an improvement for both sides over the status quo.

Sincerely,

sam signature

November 4 Ward Letter

The murders at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh raise concerns that dwarf the City issues I discuss with you here.  For those of you interested in hearing an illuminating but disturbing analysis of connections between and among the “alt-right” movement, anti-Semitism and this country’s relationship with the government of Israel, I recommend a recent New York Times podcast you can listen to by clicking here.   Returning to our City, I will discuss in this week’s letter a City perspective on some of the election choices we have as voters on Tuesday.

Click to read pdf version.

Governor Gina Raimondo contributed to our City’s prosperity through the State’s economic incentives programs, which attracted many businesses to Providence, creating jobs and over time will expand the tax base.  She also promoted a review of the school aid funding formula, which produced modest improvements for the additional needs of English language learners.  In contrast, her two principal opponents have painted a negative picture of our City in their campaigns, making it unlikely they would help our City address our concerns if elected.

Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea helped our City two years ago when then-President Aponte of the City Council interfered with the recall election of former Councilman Kevin Jackson.  Secretary Gorbea used her office to set the date of the recall election notwithstanding Mr. Aponte’s obstruction of a City Council vote to confirm that date.  Without her decisive action, Mr. Aponte and his allies in the then-“leadership” of the City Council may have succeeded in depriving the voters of Ward 3 of the opportunity to recall Mr. Jackson from office by a margin of 91% to 9%.

Treasurer Seth Magaziner helped the City in two important ways.  First, he provided technical assistance to the City Council’s Pension Study Working Group by providing sample actuarial runs that calculated the fiscal impact of potential pension reforms.  He also helped develop and advocate for the State’s plan to issue $500 million in bonds to enhance school construction and repairs, the first phase of which is subject to voter approval on Tuesday.  If approved, this plan would not only provide additional needed funds for Providence, but also would provide some of the funds on a pre-funded basis, an improvement over the current regime of State reimbursement after the City fronts all the money, placing greater strain on our bonding capacity.

Mayor Elorza addressed the City’s short-term financial issues, closing the $13 million accumulated operating fund deficit and replacing it with a steadily growing “rainy day” fund.  He is now pivoting towards addressing the $1 billion unfunded pension liability.  While he has not yet articulated a plan to address this issue adequately (which in itself would be only the first step in mobilizing support to implement such a plan), I believe he is the candidate who is best able to address this serious issue in a serious manner.  Because he is subject to term limits, Mayor Elorza, if re-elected, could make the difficult decisions to solve the pension problem that elude office holders who focus on their next re-election, at least that is my hope.

I hope you find these considerations useful, but even if you don’t, I urge you to exercise your right to vote this Tuesday to help place your mark on the shape of our federal, State and City government for the next two to four years.  Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

sam signature

October 28 Ward Letter

I hope you are managing your sleep deficits – the drama of the Red Sox keeps many of us up until the wee hours, reducing productivity across New England. This week’s letter discusses parent engagement in the public schools, bus transportation and “work to rule.”

On Monday night (Oct. 22), Councilwoman LaFortune and I co-hosted a meeting for parents and interested residents concerning the recently concluded strike by school bus drivers, the Providence Teachers Union “work to rule” policy and ways for parents to have their voices heard. We were joined by School Board members, the Superintendent and the President of the Providence Teachers Union.

The School Department Oversight Committee reviewed the school bus driver strike in more detail, which I will describe below. With regard to “work to rule,” the Teachers Union President noted that the Union had agreed to allow teachers to write college recommendation letters as an exception to the general policy of refusing work outside the specific dictates of the contract. A number of parents raised specific issues at their school that were not known to the Providence Teachers Union President or the School Board leadership. I am hopeful these concerns will lead to further “exceptions” granted to the “work to rule” policy adopted by the Teachers Union. More generally, I can understand as a conceptual matter that an individual teacher upset about the slow pace of contract negotiations may make the personal decision to restrict her or his work to the minimum requirements, but I do not understand why the Teachers Union believes it is appropriate to prohibit individual teachers from doing more for students if the teacher has this (what I believe to be commendable) wish to serve students even in the wake of poor relations with management. I believe the Providence Teachers Union’s decision to relax “work to rule” for college recommendations was based on their assessment that parents were upset with their policy, which was hurting children. I am hopeful that the Union will see the wisdom of relaxing the application of “work to rule” to other aspects of teaching work (such as meeting with parents after school hours, as some parents cannot leave work during the day) to allow individual teachers to pursue their profession based on their own personal and professional ideals.

At the meeting, we also discussed the value in parents organizing, perhaps forming a Providence Parents Union to go along with the Providence Teachers Union and the Providence Students Union. A number of parents expressed their frustrations and concerns that the public schools are failing to address for their children. In an ideal world, these concerns would be addressed more thoroughly and more expeditiously, but the Providence Public Schools is a large and inadequately funded program. These challenges will not solve themselves; therefore we are encouraging parents to organize and advocate.

On Wednesday, October 24, the School Department Oversight Committee reviewed a proposed extension of the First Student contract for bus transportation for the current year and next school year. The School Board described the priorities that led to the award to First Student, including their promise to acquire a fleet of new buses with GPS. We also learned that the only other responsive bidder sought millions of dollars of extra money for the same service. Under those conditions, the School Board and the City approved the contract because these priorities were addressed at a reasonable price. The collective bargaining agreement that First Student recently entered with the Teamsters Union has a 3-year term, making any potential strikes over the next 1-1/2 years both unlikely and illegal. Finally, the School Department indicated that it would need the next year and a half to design and implement a procurement process that could lead to a different vendor with a clear “no strike” clause among other things, as it will take time to design and issue the request for proposals, and any new vendor will need additional time to acquire the buses and drivers. With that said, it is clear that the next bus contract will have to contain solid protections to prevent the harms that came from the recently concluded 11-day school bus driver strike.

Sincerely,

sam signature

October 21 Ward Letter

Having spent some quality time on the East Bay Bike path and with the leaves in my back yard, I am now pleased to share with you news about ways to involve parents in School Department decisions, the Hope Point Tower and the school bus contract.

Download a pdf copy.

Last week, thankfully, the school bus strike ended after eleven days, resolving one of two major stresses that have affected our children’s education this year in the Providence Public Schools.  During that time, parents circulated a petition expressing concern about both the strike and the impact of the Providence Teachers Union’s “work to rule” policy on their children’s education.  It is clear that parents believe that the adults are making decisions (or failing to make decisions) that are harming the education of their children, and they want for this to change.  On Monday evening, October 22 at 5:30 p.m. at the Providence Career and Technical Academy auditorium, Councilwoman LaFortune and I will co-host a public forum with invited guests Superintendent Maher and representatives from the Providence Teachers Union, the Mayor’s office and the Providence School Board.  Each of the panelists will talk briefly about lessons learned from the school bus strike and the impacts of “work to rule.”  We will then invite you to ask questions of the panel.  We also will encourage everyone to sign an address list which may help begin an organization.  Everyone is welcome, especially parents, so please come if you can.

While our meeting is taking place, the Ordinance Committee will hold a public hearing at City Hall to hear, for a second time, public comment regarding the zoning change requested by developer Jason Fane to build the Hope Point Tower.  After the last hearing, I decided to vote against the project for reasons I explained in my July 22 letter.  The City Council voted to hold a second hearing because Mr. Fane complained he had not been invited to the first one.  Given that the hearing was open to the public and other developers in Mr. Fane’s position have, in the past, attended these hearings and spoken without the need for a formal invitation, the justification for a second public hearing was at best tenuous.  I suspect that there will be substantial overlap between the content of the two hearings.  With that said, in the unlikely event that the second hearing produces substantial relevant new information beyond what we learned before, I will give it fair consideration.

On Wednesday, October 24 at 5:30 p.m., the School Department Oversight Committee will consider whether to recommend approval of two consecutive one-year extensions of the current school bus contract with First Student.  (The contract expired last school year; therefore, the first extension would run retroactively to the start of the current school year.)  As part of its review, the Committee will investigate the recent strike, including such questions as how the “force majeure” clause excusing First Student from responsibility for a strike was negotiated into the contract, what understandings the administration reached with First Student and/or the Teamsters Union to facilitate the resolution of the strike, what assurances exist to prevent another strike from happening, and other related topics.  As these questions imply, the recent experience reduces my confidence in First Student and increases my perception of the value of a more competitive bidding process in the award of this contract.

Sincerely,

sam signature

October 14 Ward Letter

I hope you are enjoying (or at least surviving) the excitement and drama the Red Sox are bringing into our homes.  This week’s letter will discuss regulation of student housing and short term rentals, the school bus driver strike and the teacher union’s “work to rule” program.

Download a pdf copy.

Last Tuesday afternoon, a subcommittee of the City Plan Commission met to review a proposed ordinance to regulate student housing.  The ordinance proposed allowing property owners to rent up to three students in every residential unit as a matter of right, and allowing owners the opportunity to apply for a special use permit that would allow up to five students per unit, depending on the number of bedrooms it contains.  The new regulation would apply to all housing (multifamily) in all zones.  Neighbors/residents at the meeting advocated for a strict 3 student per unit limit, while property owners objected to any limit below the actual number of bedrooms in the housing in question, as well as the need to apply for permission.  Some spoke of the opportunity to gain further help from colleges and universities to regulate student behavior without enacting any regulation of property owners.  The discussion continued at a neighborhood meeting on Wednesday night.  The Planning Department will take this feedback into consideration before presenting a revised ordinance to the City Plan subcommittee in several weeks.

Also at Wednesday’s neighborhood meeting, Robert Azar of the Planning Department described the Department’s approach to regulating short term rentals, such as AirBnb.  Mr. Azar described three categories of short-term rentals.  The first (and lowest impact) is when a host stays in their home while renting out a room to visitor.  The second is when a host rents out their entire home on a periodic basis while still keeping their home as their primary residence.  The third is when the host is an absentee, and a steady stream of guests comes and goes.  The Planning Department will propose permitting the first category to continue unregulated, while banning the third category completely.  Hosts in the middle category will apply for and obtain a one-year special use permit to operate, with the opportunity to revoke the permit in the event of being a “bad neighbor.”  There are other details to work out, such as whether there is an overall cap on the number of nights rented out per year, and/or whether hosts will have an initial probationary period before getting their first one-year permit.  The Planning Department expects to present a draft proposal at the City Plan Commission’s next meeting on Tuesday, October 16 at 4:45 p.m. at 444 Westminster Street.

Over the past several weeks, our public school children have faced two significant stresses, namely a strike by school bus drivers and a decision by the teachers’ union to “work to rule,” under which the union directs teachers not to perform any work beyond the specific tasks spelled out in the contract.  Many parents signed a petition expressing their concerns about these stresses, and Councilwoman LaFortune and I met with a group of them last weekend to discuss ways they can advocate for their children.  Twelve years ago, parents formed the East Side Public Education Coalition to improve Nathan Bishop Middle School, and continued for several years to work with officials to improve public education.  It would be wonderful if parents used the current challenges to form a new organization for this purpose.  We hope to announce a public meeting soon to discuss the “work to rule” issue to provide the parents with a platform to build a new organization.

Sincerely,

sam signature

October 6 Ward Letter

I hope you are enjoying Columbus Day weekend. This week’s letter discusses regulation of student housing, regulation of short-term rentals, tax stabilization agreements and the school bus driver strike.

On Tuesday, October 9 at 3:30 p.m. at 444 Westminster Street, a committee of the City Plan Commission hold a public meeting will review possible legislation to regulate student housing. Robert Azar from the Planning Department of Planning will share with us the Department’s ideas for both student housing and short-term rentals, such as AirBnB. Our neighborhood meeting, co-sponsored by Councilwoman LaFortune and Helen Anthony, the Democratic candidate to succeed me in Ward 2, will take place on Wednesday, October 10 at 6:00 p.m. at the Nathan Bishop Middle School Cafeteria. Please try to come and share your ideas.

At Thursday night’s meeting, the City Council gave second and final passage to a tax stabilization agreement (TSA) for the College Hill Edge development on Steeple Street. Some of you shared with me your opposition to this project, primarily for two reasons. The first was that it would be bad for the neighborhood. I attended the City Plan Commission and spoke in opposition to the additional height they acquired, which I believe aggravated some negative impacts. Others noted that the project would not provide relief for those in need of affordable housing, which is also true. With that said, I voted in favor of the ordinance because it was a project in excess of $50 million, and it met the standard criteria (apprentice training, local hiring efforts, etc.) to qualify for a TSA based on prior history. Because of our City’s high commercial property tax rate, the TSA is generally the only way to encourage new development. I would like to see the City enact a standard TSA similar to other cities such as Philadelphia to avoid the delay and ordeal involved with the current one-off proceedings. It may be possible to include some contribution ot affordable housing as part of such a standard document, consistent with the overall goal of building the City’s tax base.

This past Monday (October 1), the School Department Oversight Committee met to, among other things, review the School Department’s efforts to mitigate the impacts of the school bus driver strike. We learned that the City has essentially no leverage to resolve the situation, which was described as a national dispute. The national Teamsters union wants to require First Student to contribute to their national multi-employer pension fund, and First Student’s opposes because of the lack of adequate funding for the multi-employer fund, and the risk of First Student’s becoming liable for the entire fund’s shortfalls. While we cannot adjudicate the merits of their positions, the bottom line is that Providence students are being hurt by this national dispute, and the current contract, which was shaped by First Student’s leverage as the only viable bidder, makes their problem our problem. The Superintendent noted the heroic efforts of parents, students and educators to cope with this crisis, but it is creating a strain and many children are falling through the cracks. At the end of the day, it is clear we need to restructure the City’s school bus program to make it more resilient and less vulnerable to any vendor’s problems.

Sincerely,

sam signature

September 30 Ward Letter

We are now in full campaign season for the decisions we will make in November for, among other positions, the United States Senate, the Governor and the Mayor.  In the meantime, the City’s work continues.  This week’s letter will discuss the school bus driver strike, the teacher union’s modification of its “work to rule” program and a request for your suggestions of neighborhood organizations and projects worthy of modest financial support.

Download a pdf copy.

The school bus vendor (First Student) stopped providing bus service on Thursday due to a strike by its bus drivers.  Earlier last week, the School Department Oversight Committee reviewed what contractual rights the Providence Public Schools had in light of the termination of service by its contractor.  We learned that the contract contains a “force majeure” clause that exempts the vendor from responsibility to the Providence Public Schools for a list of conditions, the bulk of which describe catastrophic events beyond First Student’s control.  We were surprised, however, to learn that the list also includes the possibility of a strike, which in my opinion is an event within First Student’s control.  According to a Report by WPRI-TV, the School Department solicited bids that place this responsibility on the vendor’s tab; however, First Student negotiated a change to relieve its responsibility.  While I do not know the details of the negotiations, I suspect that First Student had extensive leverage due to the absence of other competitive and/or qualifying bids.  When I was on the School Board in 2000-02, other vendors were reluctant to bid for Providence because we required them to garage their buses (and pay property tax) in Providence.  While this requirement may be beneficial for the City’s tax revenues, the School Department Oversight Committee will ask the administration to develop other alternatives that would allow more bidders and the benefits of competition in awarding the next contract.  The School Department Oversight Committee will be meeting on Monday, October 1 at 6:00 to receive an update concerning the impacts of this unfortunate strike.

Also at last week’s meeting, the School Department Oversight Committee received a brief update from the Superintendent concerning contract negotiations with the Providence Teachers Union and the status of their decision to “work to rule,” under which teachers would refrain from performing any work beyond the specific requirements of the contract.  On this basis, teachers had declined to write college reference letters for high school students, but the Superintendent reported last week that teachers have reconsidered this particular measure, and are now writing college recommendation letters.  I believe this was a wise move by the teachers, because most parents with whom I spoke were blaming the teachers union, not the administration, for this action.  Some parents asked whether it would make sense to negotiate this and other types of “optional” teacher work into the next contract. I shared my view that the contract (which currently is around 70 pages in length) should be shorter, rather than longer, and that it would be a mistake to view the contract as the maximum amount of work that teachers will perform, as well as the minimum.  Instead, most teachers in my experience are highly skilled professionals who are truly committed to the success of their students, and their individual initiatives should be encouraged and appreciated.

As a result of my decision not to seek re-election, I plan to close out my campaign account by the end of this year.  This has allowed me to show my appreciation for the classroom teachers at four of our neighborhood schools (King, Gregorian, Bishop and Classical) by working with their PTO’s (King, Gregorian and Bishop) and Alumni Association (Classical) to purchase and distribute $50 Staples gift cards for each teacher to pay for classroom supplies that they often have to fund out of their own pockets.  (I also am working with the School Department to identify a conduit to make a similar contribution to Hope High School’s teachers, as campaign finance laws do not permit me to contribute the funds directly to the school.)  While this effort will require the majority of the funds in my account, I still will have a remaining balance that I can contribute to charitable organizations.  I welcome your suggestions for modest gifts, particularly for groups or organizations that operate in our neighborhood and/or benefit our neighbors.  Please feel free to send me an email with your suggestions.

Sincerely,

sam signature

September 23 Ward Letter

I hope you are enjoying this beautiful first weekend of Autumn.  This week’s letter discusses the School Department’s compliance with a Department of Justice investigation of its English Language Learner program, preparations for a possible school bus driver strike, and an upcoming community meeting to discuss regulation of AirBnB and student housing.

On Monday, September 24, 2018 at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall, Third Floor, the School Department Oversight Committee will meet to review, among other things, the School Department’s English Language Learner (ELL) program and a potential strike by school bus drivers.

During the summer, the School Department announced that it had reached a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice (DOJ) concerning its program for English language learners (ELL).  It has been known for years that Rhode Island’s Hispanic students have the lowest performance on the national standardized tests, and the DOJ investigation highlighted many of the reasons why this is the case, including a significant deficit of qualified teachers.  The causes of this problem include a national shortage of qualified teachers and a State funding formula that does not provide adequate resources for this need.  When the General Assembly approved the current formula in 2010, I testified concerning this defect, and I repeated my concerns when the State reviewed the formula a few years ago.  This defect, which resulted from a political accommodation in 2010, makes Rhode Island’s formula an outlier nationally.  The DOJ settlement agreement calls for significant improvements without identifying a sustainable path to achieve them.  The School Department Oversight Committee will review the School Department’s plans asking, among other things, how the settlement will affect that Department’s overall program both for children learning the English language and the other children in the Providence Public Schools.

A vendor named First Student provides school bus service to Providence students, and it has reached an impasse with the Teamsters’ Union to which its bus drivers belong.  The bus drivers have taken a strike vote, and a strike is expected to begin Thursday, September 27.  The School Department Oversight Committee will ask the School Department to discuss its contingency plans publicly, and may enter executive session to inquire as to what legal remedies the School Department has when its vendor fails to provide the services it contracted to provide due to an internal problem, such as a strike by its bus drivers.

On Wednesday, October 10 at 6:00 p.m. at the Nathan Bishop Middle School Cafeteria, Councilwoman LaFortune, Ward 2 Democratic candidate Helen Anthony and I will co-host a neighborhood meeting to discuss efforts to regulate short-term rentals (such as AirBnb) and student housing in Providence.  Robert Azar, the Deputy Director of the Planning Department, will present the Department’s current thinking on both of these areas.

At a neighborhood meeting earlier this summer, Councilwoman Lafortune and I invited public comment concerning short-term rentals.  We learned that some of them had adverse neighborhood impacts, particularly where the property owner essentially served as an absentee landlord.  We also learned that AirBnB rentals help other Providence residents have reduced those impacts by renting out spare rooms while occupying the rest of their residence, or through careful screening of potential guests.  The Planning Department has been developing proposed legislation it will present to the City Plan Commission later this fall, and Mr. Azar will share the Department’s current thinking of how to enhance the benefits of short-term rentals while minimizing the adverse impacts.

Earlier this summer, the City Plan Commission organized a subcommittee to review regulation of student housing, following the discovery of a lease by a Providence landlord of a six-bedroom two-family house on College Hill to thirteen undergraduate students.  I introduced legislation the City Plan Commission endorsed that would place a 3-student limit on housing units in R-1 and R-1A zones (thus, a 2-family house could have a maximum of 3 students in each unit), while Councilman Yurdin introduced legislation I co-sponsored to place a limit of 4 undergraduate students in each unit in all zones, for which legislation Councilman Yurdin has withdrawn his support but which I still co-sponsor.  Neither measure has drawn broad support in the City Council.  The Planning Department is developing its own version that Mr. Azar will discuss at this meeting.  Please try to attend and share your ideas.

Sincerely,

sam signature

September 16 Ward Letter

On Tuesday night, I will join members of the Jewish community in observing Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  As part of my observance, I would like to ask you to forgive me for the wrongs I have committed against you during the past year.  I wish everyone else observing the holiday an easy fast and a fulfilling experience.  Returning to the municipal level, this letter will discuss the results of Wednesday’s primary on the City Council for the coming term.

Download a pdf copy.

The mayoral side of the City’s primaries points to continuity, as Mayor Elorza won the Democratic Party nomination for re-election.  Any contested election brings uncertainty, but he is favored to return to office in November.

The City Council has 15 seats, and the entire City Council for the past two terms has been filled with Democratic Party members.  As a result, the winners of last week’s primary (along with those other Democrats who did not have a primary opponent) are the presumptive members of next term’s City Council.  From this perspective, next year’s presumptive City Council will have four new members, from Wards 2, 8, 12 and 13.

In Ward 2, we nominated Helen Anthony to represent us next term.  Attending candidate forums and speaking with our neighbors during the campaign, I was impressed (though not surprised) by our high level of discussion, our knowledge of critical issues and the attention we paid to this campaign.  I am optimistic that presumptive Councilwoman-elect Anthony will do an excellent job.  I will be pleased to provide her with all the help I can over the coming months to ensure a smooth transition.

In Ward 8 (Reservoir Triangle neighborhood), my colleague Wilbur Jennings was defeated in his campaign for a third term.  In my opinion, Councilman Jennings was one of the unsung heroes of the City Council over the past two terms.  During the 2011-14 term, the City Council addressed several of the City’s critical problems (“fiscal hurricane,” pension reform, economic development, etc.) that were enacted by a divided (and sometimes closely divided) City Council with his support, while in the current term, Councilman Jennings has stood up against many of the abuses of the leadership team elected to begin the term.  As you may remember, this term began with the election of a Council President (Councilman Aponte) and Majority Leader (Councilman Jackson) who had lengthy records of campaign finance violations, and who were indicted during the term for felony crimes, leading each to resign his leadership position in disgrace.  Throughout these events, the members of the Aponte/Jackson faction continuously courted Councilman Jennings to join their side, one time coming to his house with bottle of wine as an inducement.  Councilman Jennings stood tall, supporting policies that benefitted his neighborhood and the City as a whole, rather than supporting the tactics other Council members pursued to extract an advantage for their particular ward (or wards) at the expense of the rest of the City.  Thanks to his vision and principles, the City is much better off.

More generally, now that we know who the likely City Council members are, my colleagues will be caucusing among themselves to form a leadership team of eight or more Council members who will vote as a block to fill the key leadership positions (President, Majority Leader and committee chairs).  I believe that many of the failures of this City Council term (such as the “zombie bond,” which was approved by 85% of the City’s voters, only to be blocked by the City Council “leadership” in a failed attempt to create multimillion dollar accounts for individual members to control) can be traced directly to the City Council’s poor judgment in electing the Aponte/Jackson team.  More generally, this leadership team clashed frequently with the Mayor, and will be remembered more for preventing the City’s progress than for allowing it, never mind advancing it.  We have seen some progress since Councilman Salvatore won election as City Council President late last year, but those results have been limited by the committee structure and other remnants of the Aponte/Jackson team.

It is my hope that we will not see a repeat of last term’s faction-driven group that put their individual careers and their individual wards’ interests above the well-being of the City as a whole.  While my status as a “lame duck” limits my effectiveness, I will contribute wherever I can to promoting a better City Council leadership team for the next term.

Sincerely,

sam signature

September 8 Ward Letter

September brings a new school year and the chance for a fresh start.  Sadly, this past Wednesday saw the untimely death of William Parsons, a beloved Central High School student who was the innocent victim of a shooting outside his school.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to William’s family and the school communities living through this tragedy.  While the other news from the City pales in comparison, this week’s letter will discuss the City Council’s votes last Thursday on the Hope Point Tower and ethics reform legislation.

Download a pdf copy.

After the extensive public hearing and the Ordinance Committee vote to recommend denial of the Hope Point Tower zoning change, I assumed that there was a sufficient record on which the City Council could vote on the proposal.   I was mistaken.  The City Council took a voice vote to return the measure to committee, apparently because leadership believed this was the only option on which there was a consensus.  I voted against the motion and asked that my vote be recorded, as I do not see the point in further review of a project that has been vetted this extensively.  Under the City procedures, the Ordinance Committee must schedule another public hearing if it wishes to consider amendments to the current proposal.

Even more disappointing was the City Council’s roll call vote to disapprove legislation that would disqualify members with felony indictments from serving in top City Council leadership positions, and suspending them from remaining in those positions if they are indicted during their term of office.  I first introduced this ordinance in 2016 after Kevin Jackson resigned from his position as Majority Leader after his embezzlement indictment, and pressed again for its passage after Luis Aponte resigned in disgrace from his position as City Council President following his felony arraignment in May, 2017.  At first, Mr. Aponte claimed he could not resign because his lawyer advised him it would be an admission of guilt.  This was legally untrue and probably factually untrue as well, but it demonstrated how Mr. Aponte viewed his elected position as personal property rather than as a public trust.  After a chaotic week, he finally resigned, claiming he was acting selflessly for the good of the City.  It therefore was surprising when, in last Thursday’s debate, Mr. Aponte returned to his pre-resignation talking points, arguing that officer positions were the personal property of the office holder, and should not be taken away merely because of the triviality of a felony indictment.  I was even more disappointed by the majority of City Council members, most of whom made the original mistake in 2015 of electing these two people to the top leadership position despite five-figure  unpaid fines, ethics violations and false campaign finance statements.  These Council members compounded their poor judgment on Thursday by failing to approve an ordinance that could prevent this type of harm from reoccurring.  In a television show earlier this term, two of the Council members who voted against ethics reform on Thursday (John Igliozzi and Jo-Ann Ryan) stated their interest in someday becoming Mayor of Providence.  I ask you to remember their votes against ethics reform should either of them (or any of their colleagues) ever ask for our vote for any public office in the future.

Please find the time to vote on Wednesday, September 12.  In addition to nominating party candidates for the November election, the Democratic primary will select an unopposed candidate to succeed me on the City Council, and the presumptive next State Representative in District 4 to succeed Aaron Regunberg.  Polling stations will be open from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.  To find out the location of your polling station, click here.

Sincerely,

sam signature