EAST PROVIDENCE — Of the many interested observers seated in the audience Thursday, May 2, for a meeting of the recently reinstated East Providence Budget Commission was Rhode Island Director of Revenue Rosemary Booth Gallogly, whose department manages the state overseers and who personally made the decision to bring back the body to consult on personnel matters in the city.
In a lengthy interview after the meeting, Director Gallogly answered a number of questions specific to the case of East Providence, beginning with why she agreed to the request of City Council President/Mayor James Briden to reseat the Commission to make final personnel decisions in the city.
Director Gallogly admitted the impetus for her decision was concerns raised at the state level by City Manager Peter Graczykowski’s choice to place East Providence Police Chief Joseph Tavares on administrative leave barely three weeks after the Commission returned control of personnel issues to local administrators.
“Well obviously putting the police chief on administrative leave was something we needed to understand. We wanted to make sure the appropriate actions were taken in that process. We want to make sure it’s not subject to any legal challenges,” Director Gallogly said. “We also want to be sure the stability of the city, obviously, is secure. And there were other actions that were necessary to take a look at, so we felt it was best to bring the Commission back.
“We did not officially leave when we had that last meeting (March 28). We just delegated authority back. So, hopefully, for a short period of time while we look into the situation with the chief as well as complete the interviews for Administrative and Finance Officer, hopefully we won’t be here very long. We spent a lot of time here in the city. We just want to make sure it stays on track.”
The still-unsettled position of placing an Administrative and Finance Officer (AFO) in East Providence to serve as something of a conduit between the state and the city was also a priority for director. She believes the position is necessary and warranted despite some of the duplication of services the role has with regards to the City Manager as well as the additional cost (approximately $150,000 annually for five years) to the taxpayers.
“We think it’s an appropriate extension of state oversight,” explained Director Gallogly of the AFO position. “When we look at places where there wasn’t continued oversight, when they leave they’re gone forever, there’s no one to make sure the culture changes have taken hold. So we think the Administrative and Finance Officer is an important part. And that person can be a great asset to the city, not a liability.”
City Councilor Chrissy Rossi was also in attendance at the Commission meeting Thursday. She is one of the leaders in opposition of seating the AFO. Commission member and Department of Revenue employee Christy Healey instructed Councilman Rossi to take up her cause with local members of the General Assembly if she wished to challenge the legislation.
Director Gallogly agreed with Mrs. Healey’s advice to the councilman, noting the legislation is firmly in place and has been applied in other municipalities.
“For (the AFO) not to happen it would require state legislation,” Director Gallgoly said. “But I think we’re flexible enough to work with a community in terms of organizational flow charts, structure, reporting can work in that community regardless of what form of government they have. We’re very comfortable that the Administrative and Finance Officer can be appointed, can thrive in the city and be a great asset to the other administrators.
There’s been some other consternation locally allowing Mr. Briden, as Council President/Mayor, the chance to solely hire the AFO without the consent of the rest of the Council. The Director said her office is of the opinion the provision in the legislation is legal and constitutional and can work in East Providence despite it having a City Manager form of government as opposed to a Strong Mayoral form.
“The Division of Municipal Finance will suggest three names to the Chief Elected Official in the city. And it is our position the Chief Elected Official in East Providence is the Mayor (Mr. Briden). He’s elected by Councilors who are elected by the voters. So there’s a Chief Elected Official here as far as we’re concerned,” Director Gallogly said.
Finally, Director Gallogly said it is her belief there is likely no consensus in the General Assembly to rid the Budget Commission of the continued oversight/AFO provision.
“If they want to do away with the position of Administrative and Finance Officer altogether, that is an issue for the General Assembly,” she added. “But I think the General Assembly also feels we’re have invested in this city with the continued oversight. And we don’t want to see it all fall apart.”