EAST PROVIDENCE — At the end of what was otherwise a benign meeting Thursday, May 2, marking its return to oversight of the city’s personnel matters, East Providence Budget Commission Chairman Diane Brennan entered into a somewhat testy exchange with concerned members of the audience in regards to the employment status of Police Chief Joseph Tavares.
Be it known, Mrs. Brennan was calm and concise in her answers, which came in response to queries first from Police Officers Union President Kevin Feeney, whose group supported the decision of City Manager Peter Graczykowski to put Chief Tavares on administrative leave April 15, and also from City Councilor Chrissy Rossi, who has filed a complaint against Council President James Briden for his request to have the Commission reseated.
State Director of Revenue Rosemary Booth Gallogly, whose department supports the Budget Commission, was in attendance Thursday. She agreed with Mr. Briden’s request to reseat the Commission for matters of personnel only as of April 18.
The interaction began with a lighthearted exchange as Detective Corporal Feeney, president of International Brotherhood of Police Officers (IBPO) Local 569, noted the preponderance of EPPD personnel at the gathering.
“You’ve never seen so many officers at a Budget Commission meeting before. It’s usually only me,” Cpl. Feeney said. To which, Chairman Brennan quipped, “I thought you were here for our protection.”
Cpl. Feeney then asked Chairman Brennan directly if the Commission was returned to authority due to Chief Tavares’ case.
“We’re proud of the what Mr. Graczykowski did,” Cpl. Feeney stated in his preamble to the question. “It’s been a tumultuous time for the Police Department. All we’re asking is that Mr. Graczykowski be allowed to conduct a fair and impartial investigation without any undue influence from the state…We’ve lived under this for four years. We just want the Police Department to be put back to where it belongs.”
EPPD personnel filed at least a handful of complaints against the chief during his near four-year run at the top of the department. Mr. Graczykowski put Chief Tavares on leave in mid-April so new Human Resources Director Kathleen Waterbury could conduct the investigation.
In response to Cpl. Feeney, Chairman Brennan said one of the reasons why the Commission was returned to oversight of personnel was to make sure proper policies and procedures were “adhered” to in the chief’s case.
“The Budget Commission is looking into some things, but we do not have all the information we need,” Chairman Brennan added, specifically referring to the chief’s situation.
For his part, Mr. Graczykowski, also a Budget Commission member, said the internal investigation of Chief Tavares is done and all pertinent information has been turned over the Budget Commission for review.
“The internal investigation was completed yesterday (May 1) and the results have been handed over to the Budget Commission as requested,” Mr. Graczykowski said.
Mr. Graczykowski said he stood by his determination to place the chief on leave, adding “My decision was purely for Human Resources purposes. You cannot actively investigate an employee while that person remains in their current position.”
Later during the discussion, Councilman Rossi asked the Commission why it returned and for how long it would remain seated.
Chairman Brennan told her the main reason why the Commission returned was due to the still unresolved matter of the hiring of an Administrative and Finance Officer (AFO), a condition written into the legislation creating state oversight.
The AFO holds similar authority to that of a City Manager, meaning that hire would be a duplication of services for East Providence and would come at an additional cost of some $150,000 above what is already being paid to Mr. Graczykowski to fill his role.
Chairman Brennan said “until the AFO is assigned and appointed, we as the Budget Commission will act in its place.” She added, “It’s not our expectation to be here forever.”
Councilman Rossi was also told by Commission member Christy Healey to lobby members of the East Providence delegation in the General Assembly if she were concerned with the Budget Commission’s authority.
Councilman Rossi, in response, said she had tried, “but no one will return my calls.”
Meeting regular and community activist Freddy Rybka asked if the state were going to charge the city any more money to have the Commission back in place. Director Gallogly said “no.”
She noted, previously, members of her staff were not performing duties they were hired to do at the state level, but rather served as interim Human Resources Director and Purchasing Agent for the city, among other tasks. That is the reason the state opted to charge East Providence for the employees’ time.
“There is no (state) staff currently working here,” Director Gallogly said. “The city will not be charged.”