EAST PROVIDENCE — What’s old is new again in East Providence as Paul Lemont, who once held the position, was selected as the interim city manager by the City Council at a special meeting held Thursday night, Nov. 14.
Mr. Lemont spent 14 years as the manager between 1989 and 2003. The Council, upon the resolution presented by Ward 2 representative Helder Cunha, chose him to serve the city once more by a 4-1 vote. Mr. Cunha was joined in the affirmative by Tracy Capobianco, Tommy Rose and Chrissy Rossi.
Council President Jim Briden, who backed current Municipal Finance Advisor Paul Luba for the position, voted against. Mr. Luba remains in his state-appointed role.
Two other candidates were proposed for the interim city manager job. Current City Finance Director Malcolm Moore took his name out of consideration earlier Thursday. Former Westerly Town Manager Steven Hartford, like Messrs. Lemont and Luba, appeared before the Council Thursday for a public interview.
“Mr. Lemont has been here before. He has the experience. He’s from East Providence. He was bred here. I’ve got great confidence he will run a tight ship,” Mr. Cunha said of his reasons for proposing Mr. Lemont for the post.
Mr. Rose put Mr. Hartford’s name up for consideration at another special meeting of the Council on the subject late last week. Thursday, after hearing from the former Westerly administrator, he eventually threw his support behind Mr. Lemont.
“I proposed Mr. Hartford. I was willing to look at his credentials,” Mr. Rose said. “But I was very comfortable voting for Mr. Lemont. He was here previously for 14 years and he did a very good job. He knows the city and I believe he can get us back to our grassroots.”
Mr. Lemont takes over for Peter Graczykowski, who was relieved of his managerial duties by the Council at its November 5 meeting. He will be paid based on a yearly salary of $125,000. Mr. Lemont, 73, will not be taking any benefits and it’s likely the city will not have to contribute to his retirement. He will start in the position Monday, Nov. 18.
During his interview, Mr. Lemont harkened back to his youth, noting he grew up in East Providence “hunting, fishing and trapping…enjoying life in this fabulous city.”
Of his reason for applying for the interim position, Mr. Lemont said “when I saw the State of Rhode Island take over our fine city I was incensed and embarrassed.” He continued the presence of the state-appointed Budget Commission was an “insult” and that obviously something in city government had “gone wrong.”
Mr. Lemont said in his 14 years at the helm of East Providence, it never ended in a fiscal deficit and had a surplus every year. It’s bond rating, which plummeted in the years prior to the Commission’s appointment, was the top in the state when he was in charge. East Providence was also nominated as an “All-American City” three times.
“I believe I have the ability to come in and take over, take charge,” Mr. Lemont said.
The interim manager noted the uncomfortable relationship between East Providence Police Chief Joseph Tavares and the rank-and-file as well as the behind schedule renovations at two E.P. Fire Department stations as two of the first tasks that must be addressed. He also said the overall low morale of city employees must be rectified.
“The city needs to once again take charge of itself,” Mr. Lemont said. “I’m going to take a look at things and let the employees know that I’m working on their behalf as well as the general public.”
Before casting her vote in support, Mrs. Rossi asked Mr. Lemont to clarify perceptions the city did not fully fund its pension obligations during his latter years in office. Mr. Lemont disputed that notion, telling the Council he could produce documentation the city met its retirement obligations in total.
That explanation, it seemed, was enough for Mrs. Rossi to give her support to Mr. Lemont.
In backing Mr. Luba, Mr. Briden said the current MFA worked well with the Council during the recent FY2013-14 Budget process and that he was “at a level in his career where he can think creatively and I think that is very important.”
Mr. Hartford was first to be interviewed Thursday, highlighting a number of his accomplishments in his five-year tenure in Westerly. Most notable was his first-in-the-state efforts in creating a consolidated finance director position to oversee the books of both the town and its school department. The Budget Commission used Mr. Hartford’s model as the blueprint for doing the same in East Providence.
Both Mr. Briden and Mrs. Rossi encouraged Mr. Hartford to apply for the city manager position again when a permanent replacement is sought.
If Mr. Lemont has his way, however, that won’t be necessary. The 1958 East Providence High School graduate and life-long city resident said he would like to eventually be offered and he would accept the position permanently, adding he felt like he needed two to three years to get the city back to where he believes it needs to be.
— Photos by Alex Watrous