All signs point to AFO being seated in East Providence by week's end
EAST PROVIDENCE — Though the situation remains fluid, all signs point to the position of Administrative and Financial Officer (AFO) being filled Thursday, March 28, when the Budget Commission is scheduled to hold its final meeting in charge of East Providence's affairs.
The AFO is an extension of the state's oversight of the city, which, according to the piece of legislation creating the Budget Commission, continues for the next five years upon the Commission being dissolved.
It appears someone has been chosen to fill the post, though no one with intimate knowledge of the situation was willing to discuss the subject publicly. The office of the State Director of Revenue Rosemary Booth Gallogly has conducted the interview process. Again according to legislative guidelines, East Providence City Council President James Briden will be tasked with making the final decision on the hire.
"I reserve comment on this issue at this time," Mr. Briden said Tuesday, March 26, when asked if someone has been picked to fill the AFO position.
The AFO issue has come to the forefront over the last couple of weeks with the Budget Commission's impending departure and because Mr. Briden offered up a resolution asking the state to reconsider the hire.
Most observers view the AFO as a duplication of services already provided by East Providence's City Manager, specifically the job currently being done by Peter Graczykowski.
Mr. Briden's resolution was presented at the March 19 City Council meeting. Mr. Briden, however, was not in attendance. The four remaining Council members voted 3-1 to table the proposal, Ward 4 member Chrissy Rossi voting against.
Mrs. Rossi, the most vocal political opponent of the Budget Commission throughout its 15-month stay, expressed concern that once the AFO was seated it would be difficult, if not unlikely, for any change to come to the position.
"I've spent the last several weeks working on this issue. I've gone over the flow charts, analyzed the data in depth. I like the concept and the philosophy behind the AFO. I like the oversight part of it. But I feel I have an obligation to the city to raise the issue to see if we can find a more efficient, cost-effective way of going about it," Mr. Briden explained.
Just about all of the Council agreed the AFO's price tag to the city, which will approach $750,000 over the five-year duration, was rather hefty. Mr. Briden, in fact, said that was at the heart of his resolution.
"I want to adhere to what I said on this subject originally," Mr. Briden added. "I want us to stay on track with the five-year budgetary plan the Commission has put into place. And I also don't want to see the very good work the Commission has done go by the wayside. But at the same time, the objective is to do those things with the least amount of cost to the city."
At the same March 19 Council meeting, Mrs. Rossi also insinuated in so many words Mr. Briden may be breaking City Charter and committing some level of a criminal offense if he went along with the portion of the Commission law giving him the authority to hire the AFO.
City Solicitor Timothy Chapman, while not wanting to comment on the specifics, said he expects to soon provide a legal brief for the consideration of Mr. Briden, himself a lawyer and a past city solicitor.
"I'm in the process of formulating an opinion the Mayor (Council President Briden) wanted on this subject," Mr. Chapman said. He expects the brief to be ready for the next Council meeting on April 2.
Mr. Chapman is likely to base some of his opinion on State Supreme Court Case, Moreau v. Flanders, which settled much of the issues surrounding state oversight of municipalities and deemed the legislation constitutional.
"I'm going to follow the solicitor's advice in this situation, which is consistent with the Charter," Mr. Briden said.
Besides the likely naming of the AFO, more specifics about the day-to-day oversight of city business should come into better focus at Thursday's Commission finale. Mr. Graczykowski's role in the city's operations is expected to be explained in greater detail. What is unlikely to come from the last Commission meeting is a contract for the City Manager.
"The City Council will decide on City Manager's status. That's a Council issue. That's all I will say on that subject," Mr. Briden said.
In an interview late last week, Mr. Graczykowski said he was eager to have some clarity on his status under AFO oversight.
"As the CEO of the city, which I really am as City Manager, I'm most interested in an orderly transition from the Budget Commission back to the City Council in a way that's best for the City of East Providence," Mr. Graczykowski said. "I have some questions about how exactly it is going to happen, but I'm looking forward to working with whoever is put into the position."
The notion of working together with state officials on issues facing the city is one Mr. Briden has trumpeted throughout his campaign last year and into his term on the Council and as a member of the Budget Commission. He said it has continued the last few weeks since the Commission signaled its impending departure and the search for the AFO was started.
"The state has been great throughout this process. They've been looking at this with us and communicating all along," Mr. Briden said. "I really appreciate what Rosemary Booth Gallogly and our legislative delegation has done. They've been great to work with. They're all very committed to doing what's best for the City of East Providence."