This week’s Ward Letter discusses school funding, snow plowing and responsible fiscal policy.
What an exciting Super Bowl! As usual, my brother was there, as he has been for so many important moments in Boston/New England sports history, demonstrating once more why he is the coolest brother in the family. But I digress. This week’s letter discusses neighborhood schools and economic development.
I hope you are surviving this weekend’s storm. For news about the City’s response to the weather, including parking bans and adjustments in City services, please consider signing up for the Mayor’s email updates by logging onto the City’s web page and filling in the form at the left side of the page. This week’s letter discusses snow removal, City Council education oversight and the block grant program.
In my final letter of this campaign cycle, I share my views about the issues Providence faces in Tuesday’s election.
In recent months, Providence has been in the media spotlight in less than beneficial ways. Observers ask how some of us can retain a fascination for a prior Mayor whose corruption and mismanagement damaged the City’s standing and fiscal integrity, but nonetheless campaigns on a promise to restore the City’s former “glory.” Another candidate offers the near-death prescription of municipal bankruptcy to “cure” the City’s fiscal infirmities, a clear case of policy malpractice. We will face great peril if we adopt either of these delusions; instead, we must find solid ways to move forward under the leadership of Jorge Elorza. . In light of recent State Police probes into possible absentee ballot tampering, we need an especially strong showing of legitimate votes in our neighborhood to prevent a close election from being decided under dubious circumstances. Please be sure to vote, and to encourage your Providence friends and loved ones to join you. When you are in the voting booth, please make the best use of your right to shape our government, perhaps considering the suggestions I made in last week’s letter. While you are there, I respectfully ask for your vote to return me for another term on the City Council.
In my view, Providence accomplished much over the past four years, notwithstanding the campaign rhetoric we are hearing. In 2011-12, the City negotiated unprecedented concessions from its major labor unions to avoid bankruptcy, setting an important precedent for future progress. In 2011, the administration asked each of the unions to agree to 5%-10% in concessions to avoid insolvency; while in 2012, the City negotiated pension concessions to avoid another crisis. For the most part, the administration let the unions choose how to achieve the savings target. In the next contract cycle, I believe the administration should prepare in advance a comprehensive review of each department, developing a “wish list” of proposed savings and efficiencies that would bring the City’s cost structure and service program better in line with Statewide, regional and national standards.
Moving to our schools, the introduction of a third kindergarten class at Gregorian should increase that school’s capacity for neighborhood children. In the meantime, Bishop and King both have gained administrative capacity through the addition of an assistant principal to each school. The current teachers’ contract, which was rejected by the Providence Teachers Union membership after being approved by its leadership, contains language supporting greater school autonomy. Because all mayoral candidates support this change, I am optimistic that we will resolve this issue soon after the election. Once we have a new Mayor, I am hopeful the teachers union leadership will move beyond their unfortunate foray into political controversy, and return their focus to their members’ professional aspirations to educational excellence.
In the area of public safety, the City’s crime statistics document a decline in most types of crime despite losses in the size of the police force. The City paid for higher force levels during the Cianci administration by failing to contribute the required amount to the pension fund, producing a cumulative deficit of $88 million during 1994-2002, that would have grown to around $200 million had in been invested in the fund. This was too high a price to pay for a few years of additional police, and we cannot afford to make that mistake again. While the recently graduated class of police officers will augment the force’s capabilities, I believe further gains in this area will require a close study of the contract when it comes up for renewal in 2016.
While we will see a change in administration, if you return me to office, I will try to join a majority that remembers the difficult fiscal lessons we learned from the crises of 2011-12. I have seen how easy it is for different constituencies across the City to propose ways to spend the City’s money to address their particular need, without any constructive suggestions about where to derive additional revenues, or to find savings that other stakeholders will accept (or at least not block). The simple truth is we do not have a pot of extra money available to spend on new initiatives, no matter how attractive those initiatives may sound. The current administration has scrounged for every available budgetary nickel, and while there still may be one or two remaining pennies that can be wedged out of a couch cushion, the candidates’ suggestions that prudent management will fund new initiatives is entirely unrealistic. Instead, we must find ways to achieve real gains in our tax base through a targeted and realistic economic development program, and we cannot count any of those chickens before they hatch.
I will be honored if you return me to office to continue this important work. Thank you for your consideration.