Opposition noted to strong mayor ballot initiative
EAST PROVIDENCE — Taken ill prior to the City Council meeting held on Tuesday, April 15, Mayor Jim Briden followed up the forum with a couple of pronouncements on issues discussed that evening.
First, Mr. Briden, the Ward 1 representative and Council president, has called for a special Council session planned for Monday, April 28, to introduce East Providence Water System Plan ordinances pertaining to proposed increases in user rates aimed at making good on a $1.5 million deficit as well as to contribute to a capital fund and to likely revisit the $19 million bond proposal targeted to significantly improve the system's aging infrastructure.
If the rate increase ordinance passes, a public/final hearing would be scheduled for the Council's first regularly scheduled meeting in May, on Tuesday the sixth.
Also expected to be on the docket during the May 6 gathering is the strong mayor City Charter amendment issue. During the April 15 forum, several prominent members of the local political community spoke in favor of putting the proposal on the November ballot in the form of a referendum. Mr. Briden indicated he is favor of tabling the matter for the moment, while establishing a Charter Commission to further investigate the matter.
"My recommendation to the Council will be that the amendment questions not appear on the ballot this November and that we instead focus on having an independent study done of East Providence to determine if a change from a professional city manager to a strong mayor form of government is advisable," Mr. Briden, who is not seeking re-elected, said of the issue. "The next City Council can then decide whether to establish a Charter Review Commission. If this occurs and changes are recommended, then proposed Charter amendments can appear on the 2016 ballot."
He continued, "We need to study our own recent history. Specifically and by way of example, there was a wholly inadequate process before the last election which resulted in the approval of a charter amendment that changed the Council term from two to four years. I do not believe that this amendment would have been approved by the voters if a Charter Review Commission had been in place. A commission and the public debates inherent in this process would have resulted in a better informed public.
"In sum, I respect the public's right to determine their form of government, however, if the residents do not make well considered decisions, then this may prove to be detrimental to our city. A change to our very form of government must be handled in a judicious way."
Mr. Briden also offered up his opinion on a proposal presented by Councilman Chrissy Rossi and supported by the three other members of the body, which would begin the process of attempting to convert the former Oldham Elementary School building and grounds into a Recreation Center/soccer complex. Mrs. Rossi is proposing the city seek $1.2 million in bond money to pay for the project.
"Although those who propose this project have good intentions, I do not support converting the Oldham School building into a recreation center," Mr. Briden said, noting his opposition. "The better plan would be to sell the property and to place it on our tax roll. This project is not good for the taxpayers of East Providence and deviates from our most important objectives of keeping spending and property taxes down.
"The role of local government should not be expanded in this way and many important functions such as a Rec Center are better handled by nonprofit organizations."