EAST PROVIDENCE — The status quo regarding Paul Lemont’s tenure as interim city manager will remain the same for the time being after the City Council, at its meeting Tuesday night, Dec. 17, voted to delay implementing a search for a permanent replacement to deposed former office holder Peter Graczykowski.
Mr. Graczykowski was relieved of his managerial duties back in early November. Some 10 days later, Mr. Lemont was chosen to fill the post on a temporary basis.
Tuesday, the Council, at the urging of Ward 3 rep Tommy Rose, voted 4-1 to refrain from starting the search process any time in the near future. Council President and Ward 1 rep Mayor James Briden cast the lone dissenting tally.
Mr. Briden initiated the discussion on the topic, requesting City Human Resources Director Kathleen Waterbury review the existing procedures. He asked that she come up with a guide for use by the Council be presented at its next meeting, the first of the new year on Tuesday night, Jan. 7.
It was at that time Mr. Rose interjected, expressing his reservations about proceeding any further.
“I’m not ready to move forward with the process yet,” said Mr. Rose, who voted in a 4-1 majority to remove Mr. Graczykowski from the position on November 5 and later was part of a similar 4-1 vote to bring Mr. Lemont in as the temporary replacement.
Mr. Briden voted to fire Mr. Graczykowski but did not immediately support Mr. Lemont’s hire. Ward 4 rep Chrissy Rossi was the only member to vote against getting rid of the former manager, but joined her other colleagues in bringing on Mr. Lemont, who previously spent 14 years in the same position from 1999-2003.
“We’re still trying to get settled here. Things are starting to work, move in the right direction,” Mr. Rose continued.
Ms. Waterbury noted the last time the Council searched for a new manager, eventually settling on Mr. Graczykowski in the fall of 2011, the process took about six months and included a committee with members of the community at large. She recommended not following the same practice this time around.
Mr. Rose agreed with Ms. Waterbury’s position, saying he, as the only remaining member from the previous Council, was involved in that process and that it took “too long.”
In backing the status quo, Mr. Rose added, that going outside East Providence for potential candidates creates problems because they “don’t know the city” as someone like Mr. Lemont, a life-long resident, does.
Prior to the vote, At-Large Councilor Tracy Capobianco signaled her support for postponing any decision as did Ward 2 rep Helder Cunha, who not only sponsored the resolution to remove Mr. Graczykowski but also that of bringing Mr. Lemont on board.
Mr. Cunha highlighted Mr. Lemont is saving the city money because he is not taking health insurance and that the interim manager, as Mr. Rose illuded to previously, was starting to tackle some of the more pressing issues the city currently faces.
Added Mr. Rose, “I know we eventually have to look at the process, but I don’t think this is the right time. I’m happy with the way things are working right now.”
Mr. Briden was careful to say his stance was not a reflection on Mr. Lemont’s performance to date nor how he would look at the situation down the line. However, he said residents would like to have some sort of certainty in regard to who would man the top administrative post in the city going forward.
“I think the public would expect us to do the process sooner rather than later,” he added.
The Council President and Mayor asked if Mrs. Rossi, to that point quiet on the matter, had anything to add. She noted the possibility of an impending charter change to a strong mayor form of government being placed on the 2014 ballot as well as the continued state of flux with the position as being detrimental.
“I don’t know if having an interim city manager for an extended period of time is good for the city,” Mrs. Rossi said. Adding later, “We need stability. This city needs someone to stay for a while.”
Mr. Lemont has previously voiced his desire to remain as the city manager on a permanent basis, saying he probably need some two to three years in the job to remedy the existing problems and create a path forward.
Tuesday’s vote did not bring complete clarity to his status. The resolution that passed Tuesday had no specific time table included, though it was insinuated the Council would eventually revisit the topic by the spring of next year. City Solicitor Tim Chapman was also asked to determine if there are any parameters in the Charter that would dictate time sensitivity on the matter.