EAST PROVIDENCE — For the first time since he was hired as acting city manager four months ago, fissures emerged publicly in the relationship of Paul Lemont and the City Council when late in the body’s March 18 meeting the discussion focused on the continued infighting between the chief police and the rank-and-file.
Two weeks after East Providence Police Lieutenant Raymond Blinn read a prepared statement seeking answers to questions surrounding Chief Joseph Tavares’ status and that of a hostile workplace complaint he filed against the city, EPPD Detective Kevin Feeney, who doubles as the union president, once again raised the same concerns Tuesday during the meeting’s public comments section.
The issue lingered most of the evening until later during the council members business section when Ward 3 representative Tommy Rose brought up other department dealings, including the allocation of money to its junior cadet program and the status of a federal grant to purchase a boat.
Mr. Rose and his Ward 4 counterpart, Chrissy Rossi, each questioned the chief about the matters. Chief Tavares, during a lengthy response, eventually claimed the money earmarked for the cadet program wasn’t requisitioned by the overseeing officer and that the boat grant had been hindered by both the inaction of others and his being put on administrative leave by Mr. Lemont’s predecessor, Peter Graczykowski, in the spring last year.
For the moment, the tenor of the discussion, which had grown increasingly intense, was quelled a bit, but that was before Ward 2 Councilor Helder Cunha revisited the chief’s job status and what can only be termed as his cool relations with much of his officers.
Mr. Cunha, who himself read into the record a statement on the discourse at the last Council meeting, referred to Lt. Blinn’s previous comments and his own unanswered questions.
He asked Mr. Lemont to comment on the matter, which he did to a point before deciding he was getting into a discussion that should not be taking place in a public forum.
Asked directly by Mr. Cunha and Mrs. Rossi if he thought there was a “problem” with the police department, Mr. Lemont said “yes,” admitting “the department is not functioning fully to its capabilities,” but that he was “trying to correct the problem in my way.”
“My way,” he said was repeatedly in the 16 weeks he’s been acting city manager sitting down for talks with the chief, other high-ranking officers and Det. Feeney in attempt to smooth out the situation.
Mr. Lemont, his voice raising and visibly agitated at times, reminded the Council and the public that the city and its police department “has a history of this,” meaning uprisings by the rank-and-file against past sitting chiefs.
“When I first came here, the police department was trying to get rid of the chief,” Mr. Lemont said, referring back to his first tenure as manager that began in 1999.
He also drew similarities to the situation that ultimately led to the departure of the chief previous to Mr. Tavares, Hubert Paquette.
“I wasn’t here, but in reading the newspapers I saw what happened to the previous chief. This is not new,” Mr. Lemont added.
Mr. Lemont also noted past lawsuits and complaints filed against the city that had cost East Providence taxpayers plenty in judgements and settlements.
It was about this time when Mayor Jim Briden, the Ward 1 rep and council president, as well as City Solicitor Tim Chapman interrupted to remind all involved about the potential legal ramifications of continuing the discussion in public.
Mr. Chapman said the chief’s complaint was still pending and anything said in an open meeting could be used as evidence against the city’s case and for that of the chief. He and Mr. Briden, a lawyer and a former city solicitor, agreed while also saying Mr. Lemont’s reluctance to speak in any detail was being done in the best interests of East Providence.
Though most of the councilors expressed their dissatisfaction, the discussion on the matter, for the time being, ended there, but was, coincidentally or not, immediately followed by another council member item raised by Mrs. Rossi seeking the start of the search process to find a permanent replacement for Mr. Lemont.
Mr. Briden suggested the matter be tabled to the next Council meeting considering what had just taken place. In a vote, though, Messrs. Rose and Cunha along with Mrs. Rossi voted in the affirmative to start the search process with only At-Large Councilor Tracy Capobianco joining Mr. Briden voting against.
The meeting adjourned soon after.