Council clears first hurdle in effort to change East Providence’s form of government

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EAST PROVIDENCE — At its meeting Tuesday night, Nov. 19, the East Providence City Council cleared the first of what are likely to be a few significant hurdles in an grassroots effort to change the city’s form of government.

By a unanimous 5-0 vote, the Council passed a resolution presented by Ward 3 representative Tommy Rose, which would put into writing a ballot measure adopting a “strong mayor” system as opposed to the current “manager” structure used in the city.

A mayor, selected by the majority of the electorate, would be the formal, full-time top administrator in the city, working with an elected council as a counterweight to his or her authority. The length of the mayor’s term, possible term limits and salary were not discussed Tuesday.

In addition, the Council, by a 4-1 vote, agreed with a second aspect of the resolution presented by Mr. Rose, which would require all candidates for office run under a party affiliation. The lone dissenter to the measure was Council President and Ward 1 rep Jim Briden.

The formal resolution called for charter amendment questions to be placed on the 2014 ballot regarding mayoral form of government and partisan elections, to be drafted for passage by the law department. City Solicitor Tim Chapman will be charged with crafting the amendment questions. Mr. Rose clarified his proposal, calling for two separate measures be placed before voters, one for the mayoral change and the other for the party affiliation addendum.

Mr. Rose and the Council were reacting to a request on both proposals from Sandy Barone, an active participant in city political circles and a member of the East Providence Democratic City Committee.

Mrs. Barone originally brought her requests to the Council at its previous meeting on Nov. 5. On Nov. 19, she reiterated her stance in support of both measures.

“I strongly believe East Providence needs to change its form of government,” Mrs. Barone said. “We’re a city of 47,000 voters (sic, residents) and as few as three city council members pick our city manager.”

“It essentially disenfranchises everyone else in the city,” she added.

Mrs. Barone continued, “It’s time we had a real leader and it’s time we empower all of the residents of the city.”

Mrs. Barone made sure to mention she was suggesting the changes as both a resident of the city and a member of the Democratic Committee. In backing her stance, she referred to Mayors Allan Fung of Cranston and Scott Avedisian of Warwick, Republicans who have won re-election despite the preponderance of registered Democratic voters in both cities.

She also said East Providence was lacking in leadership when the state determined the need to install the Budget Commission to oversee its finances in late 2011. In addition, Mrs. Barone said the number of managers East Providence has gone through in recent years was like “eating popcorn” or “chewing gum,” it’s had so many.

“I’m not saying East Providence will be the No. 1 place to live in this country if we do this, but I can tell you our current form of government is not working for us,” Mrs. Barone added.

A majority of those who spoke on the matter during public comment supported the proposals.

Of those who spoke against, Tom Riley, another active member of the city’s political scene and the chairman of the Canvassing Board, voiced his concerns with each measure.

Mr. Riley countered Mrs. Barone, noting the two cities previous to East Providence taken over by the state — Central Falls and Woonsocket — each had “strong mayor” governments.

He also said having the ability to remove a city manager at will for non-performance wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. And as part of the mayor-council form a city administrator, akin to a city manager, is often hired to attend to day-to-day affairs of the municipality. Mr. Riley added having candidates run under a party affiliation would stifle opposition in traditionally Democratic East Providence.

Before going any further on either proposal, the Council will receive a first draft of the resolutions from Solicitor Chapman to review. That should take place in the coming months.

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