EAST PROVIDENCE — He was hired on a temporary basis, but once and now present East Providence City Manager Paul Lemont would eventually like to have the “interim” tag lifted from beside his name.
Mr. Lemont, 73 and who served in the same position previously in city for 14 years, expanded with the gathered press on the public interview he just had with the City Council following its decision to appoint him to the position on a temporary basis at a special session held Thursday night, Nov. 14.
Mr. Lemont, by a 4-1 vote, was chosen from a group of three candidates to fill the void left with the firing of former City Manager Peter Graczykowski nine days earlier.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Mr. Lemont said of the task at hand. “I’ve seen the city have difficulties, go down in the last 10 years. I think I can help bring it back to where it was. The only way to do that is to get started.”
Mr. Lemont will formally take the reins of the city on Monday, Nov. 18. He did not want to point fingers at any one person or people in particular, but said a general lack of oversight led to East Providence’s financial woes in recent years.
“I think the wrong people got put in charge of things,” he explained. “I’m not going to name names, but if you look back, look at some of the people in there calling the shots, I think that put us where we were.”
Where the city was, at least in the eyes of state officials, was at near financial collapse. As he said during his interview, Mr. Lemont reiterated his displeasure with the eventual appointment of a Budget Commission to oversee East Providence in December of 2011. The Commission would stay on through September of this year, 2013.
“I was infuriated by it,” Mr. Lemont added of the Commission’s seating. “I don’t know whether they came in and slashed and burned. If they did, then I have to find out how it was done, when it was done, and whether it’s working or not.”
Mr. Lemont, whose original tenure as manager lasted from 1989 to 2003, said despite other stops during the ensuing years, he felt he departed East Providence with business left undone.
“When I was here 10 years ago I didn’t want to leave then. I didn’t see my job as being finished. And this time around, I’d like to finish it,” he said. “I’d like to get some waterfront work done, get the fire department issues, the construction issues in check. And you’ve got the police department issues that need to get in check. And I want to get the city feeling good about itself again. See if we can become an ‘All-American City’ once again.”
Mr. Lemont chalked up his and the city’s involvement in a workplace lawsuit as the final catalyst for his first stint as manager coming to an end. A male and female employee did not get along, leading to the court procedures. The city eventually lost the case and did not pursue further litigation.
“What it came down to was I wanted to have a female department head, never had we had a female public works director and I wanted one, and we got one. He would not just leave her alone,” Mr. Lemont said. “The one regret that I have is that we did not appeal. We just kind of sloughed it off and walked away.”
With a second chance at the position, Mr. Lemont is well aware of some of the lingering difficulties the city, specifically the manager, must face. Likely at the front of the line is the seemingly endless uneasiness between East Providence Police Chief Joseph Tavares and many, if not a majority, of his officers.
“I’ve got to talk to all sides. It’s not unfamiliar to me. If go back to 24 years ago when I came in, the police department was virtually on strike over the chief,” Mr. Lemont said. “But this issue is different. It’s an outsider coming into the department. But that issue has been decided by an arbitrator in arbitration, so it’s over. And they (the rank-and-file officers) have to accept it. I’ve got to sit down and find out what they still think the issues are, try to make the system work. It’s got to work.”
Mr. Lemont must work to some extent within the framework set up by the Budget Commission’s five year plan for financial stability. That as well as the presence of the state-appointed Municipal Finance Advisor, Paul Luba, are aspects of the position with which he admitted to being unfamiliar.
“I put together the budget with the finance director and I was surprised when they (the Council) were talking about an outsider putting (Mr. Luba) the budget together. That’s the job of the city manager. That’s the rule. If you look at the charter it doesn’t say anything else except the city manager and his team putting the budget together and I intend to put it together,” Mr. Lemont said.
Of his expectations of working with the aforementioned MFA, he added, “We just said we’re going to be the best of friends, but we’ll see what happens over the next couple of months as to how he sees his role and how I see it.”
The next couple of months actually begin on November 18 when Mr. Lemont returns to the corner office on the first floor of City Hall. Once there, he said he will immediately begin the task of helping edge East Providence forward.
“I’m coming in Monday morning. There will be a staff meeting of all the department heads to tell the department heads that there’s not going to be one penny that leaves this city without my signature on it. So financially I’m going to be on top of everything that’s going on,” Mr. Lemont said.
He continued, “That’s the way it used to be. Not a penny went out of here unless I knew about. And I think that’s what let me keep control of finances and I also had a great guy working here, (former City Finance Director) Jim McDonald, that helped out. We put together all of the budgets. Every month we would monitor the budget and if we were not meeting what we needed to be doing, we would have a staff meeting and tell them you need to cut five percent, cut what was needed. And that should have been done here, but it wasn’t done.”
Far from done himself, Mr. Lemont would like to be appointed as the permanent manager following what he hopes will be a fruitful few months serving in an interim role.
“At this point I would like to stay a couple a years,” he concluded. “I couldn’t solve all the problems in three months. I would like to stay for a couple of years. By that time I think I would be ready to hang it up, at least a couple of years.”