Winter blast ends wild year in East Providence
EAST PROVIDENCE — The final weekend of 2012 brought with it a severe winter snowstorm, which could be seen as a fitting end to a wild 12-month span of time in East Providence.
2012 will go down as an historic one for East Providence, the city being the first ever in Rhode Island to have a Budget Commission placed in charge by the state.
The Commission wasted little time in making its presence known, offering up a series of consolidations and cuts to departments city wide.
The most notable to many residents and parents, especially, was the slashing of middle school sports programs at both Riverside and Martin. The cuts were first proposed at the beginning of the calendar year and eventually implemented at the start of the 2012-13 school term in September.
The Commission went about the task of consolidating several overlapping administrative positions in the school department and at City Hall, the most notable pertaining to finances.
Following the springtime departures of Mary King and Ellen Eggeman from their Finance director posts for the schools and city, respectively, the Commission hired Malcolm Moore, late of likewise-troubled West Warwick, over the summer to oversee the coffers of both departments.
Long-time school department employee Edward Daft discarded his position as interim superintendent in favor of an assistant principal job in neighboring Barrington just before the start of school. Dr. John DeGoes, who held the full-time post over a decade earlier, was brought out of retirement to man the role temporarily in late August. Dr. DeGoes, per retirement edicts, is expected to be replaced in early 2013.
The Commission, with complete oversight of all school and city operations, opted not to formally increase taxes as it went about constructing fiscal plans for Years 2012 and 2013. Rather, it decided to gradually eliminate the Homestead Tax Exemption over a period of 15 years. The Commission also revamped the structure of water rates while overseeing the completion of the infrastructure upgrade project.
Of note as well from the Commission, its efforts to balance the city's books proved good enough for ratings agencies to take East Providence off their watch lists and slightly improve the city's credit standing.
Economic development was a buzzword in 2012. The waterfront district, having been stunted due to the recent financial downturn, began to see some recovery with the State Department of Transportation finishing the new Waterfront Drive and the multimillion dollar Tockwotten eldercare facility nearing completion.
A $25 fee placed on businesses in the city by the former City Council early in the year was roundly criticized to the point where it was eventually rescinded.
In politics, voters opted to rescind the status of veteran pol Bruce Rogers, who was resoundingly upset by newcomer Helder Cunha for the Ward 2 seat on the Council in the November elections.
Eight of the 10 members of the Council and School Committee elected were first-time candidates, including the two new chairman of the respective bodies, James Briden and Joel Monteiro. Three candidates for city offices — Chrissy Rossi on the Council as well as Tim Conley and Spunk Pimentel on the School Committee — ran unopposed.
The hottest race of the 2012 campaign was for the State Senate District 14 Democratic nomination between incumbent Daniel DaPonte and Roberto DaSilva, who opted not to run for re-election to the House from his reconfigured district. DaPonte, the sitting Senate Finance Committee chair, staved off the challenge by less than 100 votes before running unopposed in the November General Election.
The same total was also the difference in the Democratic Primary for DaSilva's out seat from District 65, newcomer Gregg Amore bettering Tim Chapman for the nod. Amore defeated Joe Botelho for the seat in the General.
Twenty-something newcomer Katherine Kazarian made a sparkling political debut in 2012, cruising through both the Democratic Primary and General Elections en route to winning a seat in the General Assembly from House District 63.
Hurricane Sandy drove through East Providence in the early fall with little fanfare in comparison to the damage it did in other parts of the state, New England and the Northeast corridor. The city was spared from the devastation suffered in South County and New York/New Jersey.
School and labor issues intertwined in 2012. East Providence teachers and representatives from the Budget Commission worked out a stop-gap agreement, but failed to reach an overarching contract agreement.
The teachers' lawsuit against the city due to unilateral cuts made back in 2008 reached the State Supreme Court, which instructed both sides to settle. Again, however, no agreement was reached before the end of the year.
The deteriorating conditions of East Providence school buildings was a topic of discussion throughout the year, but took on a more urgent tone with the horrific massacre of 26 students and personnel just before Christmas at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Just days after the incident, East Providence High School went into a "Code Red" lockdown after reported gun threat. Administrators and police, working in concert, quickly evaluated the situation and it was proven unfounded.
Besides the winter storm, the last event of significance in 2012 was the somewhat surprising news of East Providence Fire Department Chief Joseph Klucznik opting to retire amid the on-going restructuring of contracts and retirement benefits of city employees. EPFD veteran officer Captain Oscar Elmasian was named acting chief by City Manager Peter Graczykowski effective Dec. 30.