Tension emerges between East Providence Council, Manager over police department infighting

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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.

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7 Comments

  1. roadrunner said:

    Councilors Rossi, Rose and Cunha, not being satisfied with the current city manager Lemont, is it because he is not under their past spell of sphere of influence like the last city manager was? Is is because Lemont wants to actually work for the people of this city and do things the honest way? Is it because he will not fire an honest police chief or perhaps it was the discovery of $2 million in past water/sewer bills owed to the city for several years, that the last city manager ignored? Makes you wonder who’s names were on that list that owed for years?
    To the good men and women on the police department who serve our city every day, my deepest sympathy to all of you for having men on the force who do not deserve to be in uniform and are a disgrace to this city. It’s those dishonest ones who need to retire or resign.

  2. Rick Lawson said:

    I want to know what happened to the grant money for the boat. If that money has been lost someone needs to get fired for incompetence. You don’t let grant money go away.

  3. fastforward3 said:

    I find this so interesting.

    Mr. Lemont seems to want to resolve things. At least he attacked the overdue water bills with gusto. I applaud his efforts with that. Trying to collect 2 million plus that was obviously left by the last council and city manager. Makes me wonder if they let those bills go because of who they belonged to.

    As far as the Chief, I think that show last night just gave the Chief some added ammunition for his lawsuit against the city. I don’t believe that it is the entire “membership’ of the union that is unhappy with the chief, maybe a handful that aren’t getting their way is more like it. In a whole, I believe the police department has many good men and women who serve and I thank them for doing a great job.

    Mr. Cunha, YOU nominated Mr. Lemont for the city manager position. Why would you want to start looking for someone new when you have someone more than capable of doing the job. After all, he just went after 2 million of monies that is owed to this city. That is something the last council and city manager probably overlooked on purpose because of who was on that list. Why does it now seem you, Mr. Cunha, have decided to jump ship and swim with the sharks? I for one, will NOT be voting for you next time.

    • Kevin J said:

      Someone did get fired for letting grant money go away. The former city manager. He turned down $3.5 million for the fire department to hire new employees. Now the city has to brunt the full cost. He also lost a $100,000 grant for the fire department to build a dock for their fireboat. As far as the police chief, didn’t the police union takes votes of no confidence in Chief Tavares, Chief Paquette, Chief DeCastro and Chief Winquist? There’s no pattern forming, is there?

  4. fastforward3 said:

    Kevin,

    You bring up a VERY good point about a pattern and the grant money.

    Like many times before, there are now more questions…………

  5. Jake said:

    Sitting in the audience the last two council meetings, I have learned a thing or two about some of our police officers that have no respect for themselves or their fellow officers.

    Councilman Cunha after watching his actions grilling the city manager, I wonder if he is the right person to represent Ward 2? Mr. Cunha and Ms. Rossi looked like two of a kind up there grilling the city manager.

    Let’s not forget Mr. Rose who was grilling the chief, guess he has a short memory on when the chief was put on leave and who was in charge of the grant money for the boat back then?
    I do believe it was also the job of some of the officers who were busy celebrating the chief being on leave to oversee these programs.

  6. roadrunner said:

    Councilors Rossi and Rose had the former city manager in their pockets, seems like Mr. Cunha has joined the rat pack. Lemont can’t be controlled, brought or paid for by the councilors then he has to go.

    How many people on the city council knew about those unpaid water bills all this time, how many of them owed back bills? Perhaps that is why the last city manager ignored the $2 million owed the city.

    Why did the Finance Director Malcom Moore not bring up the $2 million owed? What does he have to hide?

    Real estate bills should be looked into, if the city was owed $2 million in back water/sewer bills, think how much might be owed in property taxes? How many on the council owe back taxes?

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