EAST PROVIDENCE — Making his first full-fledged report since retaking the position six weeks ago on an interim basis, Acting East Providence City Manager Paul Lemont spared little of his disdain for some of the situations he inherited upon his appointment while addressing the City Council at its meeting Tuesday evening, Jan. 7.
Mr. Lemont, previously employed as the East Providence City Manager from 1999 to 2003, began by saying he was “wrestling” with several items at City Hall as he attempted to put together a “comprehensive” report on the current state of East Providence governance. He said he was nearing that point, but claimed the chore is “harder than I thought it would be.”
Instead, he said he would give the Council a “capsule shot” of what’s happening at the moment, but also said he needed time to “straighten” things out. He made sure to mention he was not “pointing the finger at any one person” or department, knowing the problems that exist run throughout the structure.
Mr. Lemont did, however, state he believed there has been little specific and definitive direction in East Providence for several years.
“It’s clearly demonstrated that over the last eight years there’s been a lack of leadership in the city,” he said, adding there’s been little “attention to detail.”
Case in point, Mr. Lemont, a native who’s maintained his residence here, pointed to the reconstruction of two of the city’s fire stations, Nos. 1 and 4 located on Broadway and Wampanoag Trail, respectively.
Mr. Lemont said he had “never seen such a messed up situation” in his life. He said there was no “continuity” of leadership on the project, which has been plagued by delays and missteps since it began in earnest in early 2013. Saying he hoped the construction could be completed in the next two months, Mr. Lemont, though, noted his disappointment with the design of the plan in general.
“If I was here two years ago (when the design was done), I would not have recommended building those additions. I think we could have done a lot better,” Mr. Lemont said.
He continued, “The product we have at the end, while acceptable, is not what I would have wanted.”
The City Manager said there’s been a lack of management and oversight of the projects, which were funded through $6 in federal funds, which as a result has allowed them to go off in “all kinds of directions.”
Mr. Lemont, as he would do with a couple of issues during his report, laid some of the blame for the fire stations quandary on the since-departed Budget Commission.
The manager was pointed in his disagreement with the state appointees, chiding them for their decision to close the former School Department offices in Riverside and consolidate staff in City Hall.
“It’s left us with a very cramped building,” Mr. Lemont said, noting how the “squashed” conditions and divergent schedules of employees has caused some rancor among them.
“I think we’ve got some real problems to straighten out,” he added.
One “problem” the acting City Manager has already remedied is that of separate water and sewer bills for residents.
Several complained about and wondered why the change occurred. Mr. Lemont said it was due to the installation of new computer software. A return to the single bill, including both figures, is expected for the next quarter cycle in February.
Mr. Lemont noted other concerns expressed by taxpayers about the rise in their water and sewer charges. He said that was due to increases imposed by United Water as treatment costs grow.
On a positive note, Mr. Lemont said instead of hiring 12 firefighters, as the Commission had approved, he recently authorized adding 18 recruits to the fire department. He said three recent retirements and three more impending made the decision the logical one to make. The recruits begin their training later this month with an eye towards beginning on the job in May.
In addition, he applauded the plowing and removal efforts of Director Steve Coutu’s Public Works Department during the most recent snowstorm. Mr. Lemont said he received just “four or five” complaints, which he deemed a record low.
Also of note, Mr. Lemont encouraged the five councilors to supply him with a list of streets in their wards and around the city that rank a priority to be repaved. He said a resurfacing plan will be implemented shortly.
Mr. Lemont concluded his remarks by said that there is “some rough road ahead, even as the city is starting to shine” once again.
He said his report was a “brief sketch of where the city is right now,” and that “no day has gone by when we’ve with a problem where another problem” has arisen. His work continues.