East Providence Budget Commission meeting gets contentious over AFO issue
EAST PROVIDENCE — While there was a bit of give-and-take in regards to the reinstatement of Police Chief Joseph Tavares, the more contentious issue debated at the East Providence Budget Commission meeting Thursday, May 23, was that of the Administrative and Finance Officer requirement to the state oversight legislation.
The AFO position, which comes with an annual price tag to the city of approximately $140,000 for salary and benefits, is a continuation of oversight per the legislation. It's important to note, state oversight of East Providence continues for five years once the AFO is hired and the Budget Commission is abolished.
Broken down into two parts, the discussion Thursday began with the introduction of an organizational chart, which used a dotted line to connect the office of the AFO with both the City Council and the School Committee.
Under the city's usual form of the government there's a clear separation of duties. The chief executive officer, the City Manager, works with the Council while the Superintendent of Schools is aligned with the School Committee.
The unusual circumstance of having state oversight, however, means the AFO will work directly with both governing bodies, something City Manager Peter Graczykowski, a Commission member, questioned vehemently.
Mr. Graczykowski, City Council member Chrissy Rossi, sitting in the audience Thursday and apparently video taping the meeting on her cellular phone, and School Committee Chairman Joel Monteiro, seated on the dais but a non-voting member of the Commission, also questioned the validity of the Budget Commission statute in regards to the power it gives the "chief elected officer," in this case Council President and Budget Commission member James Briden.
The statute reads the AFO shall report directly to the chief elected officer, though Mr. Briden is in essence that person, having been chosen by his peers to lead the Council, he is not popularly elected throughout the city.
"No disrespect to Mr. Briden," Mr. Monteiro said at one point, noting Mr. Briden was elected by only Ward 1 voters for the Council. "But he was not elected by the entire city. I think it gives too much power to one ward."
Mr. Graczykowski, offering as much push-back to any issue as he's shown throughout the Commission's duration, shared that sentiment. He was also of the mind the AFO position in East Providence's city manager form of government was redundant.
"I don't know if it make sense to pay someone a lot of money for something we already do," he added.
State Director of Finance Rosemary Booth Gallogly, Commission Chairman Diane Brennan and newly-seated Commission member Christy Healey each took turns fending off the queries and comments of those with opposing views.
Mrs. Brennan said the AFO would provide a "check and balance" and would make sure the city continues to work "in an orderly fashion." She also said it was imperative for the AFO to be installed because the city, including the school department, must "stay within the parameters" of the five-year budgetary plan the Commission implemented over its initial 15-month oversight of East Providence.
When Mr. Graczykowski again offered some resistance, Mrs. Brennan finally asked, "Do you want the Budget Commission to stay here for the next five years?"
The second part of the discussion was the AFO's compensation package, which did not receive nearly as much attention. The AFO would be paid a base salary in the range of $80,000 to $100,000 with the commensurate benefits.
In the end, the approval of organizational flow chart and the implementation of it were tabled until the next scheduled Commission meeting, tentatively set for June 13. The salary package component was voted and passed on a 4-0 vote with Mr. Graczykowski abstaining.
In a follow-up interview after the meeting, Mr. Graczykowski said much of his concern with the matter was the hefty cost the AFO would bring to the city as well as the duplication of services.
"I was not ready to support part of the organizational chart. I only received it at the last minute and I did not have the chance to ponder it," Mr. Graczykowski explained.
"I understand the mandate. I know the AFO is part of the legislation. I'm not arguing that point," he continued. "But I have what I feel are valid questions about the value the AFO brings to our form of government.
"I don't understand what the 'dotted line' means. And I also question the necessity to pay someone $95,000 plus benefits when we have someone in place who does many of the same things. In my opinion, if we institute this as it is currently written, we're going backwards. It goes against all of the consolidation we've done over the last year and it creates fragmented management.
"I understand the need to hire the AFO. I'm just questioning how we do it."