February 24, 2020

News Briefs

Posted

Mayor Appoints New Director of Administration

Former Pawtucket Police Detective replaces outgoing Chief of Staff Quinterno

Mayor Bob DaSilva released a statement late last month in which he names a new member of his staff.  DaSilva has named Napolean Gonsalves as the city of East Providence director of administration. Gonsalves will oversee the departments under the city’s Executive Branch of government and report directly to the mayor.

“Mr. Gonsalves’ leadership, discipline, strength with policies and procedures and ability to effectively communicate with staff and the public will play an imperative role in this administration,” Mayor DaSilva said. A dedicated public servant, Gonsalves’ knowledge in urban affairs will help drive our community forward.”

Prior to joining the city of East Providence, Gonsalves served as detective captain with the Pawtucket Police Department’s Major Crimes Unit where he oversaw everything from the Detective, Prosecution and Evidence units to internal disciplinary matters.   

Before being named captain, Gonsalves spent six years working as the Office of Professional Standards Officer in Charge.  In addition, Gonsalves developed planning and training programs, supervised municipal court and managed budgets.

According to DaSilva, Gonsalves, “who is bilingual in Creole, enjoys giving back to the community. While at the police department he oversaw the Community Works program where he worked with the Pawtucket Soup Kitchen, Leon Mathieau Senior Center and the school department.  Gonsalves also volunteered during his free time when he served as a board member of the Capeverdean American Community Development organization where he was integral in reestablishing the organization,”  added DaSilva.

Gonsalves served three years of honorable service in the U.S. Army and six years of honorable service in the U.S. Army Reserves. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Urban Affairs from the University of Rhode Island.

The Gonsalves appointment occurred after the recent departure of the Mayor's Chief of Staff/Operations, Anne Quinterno.  No salary was listed for the Gonsalves post.

School Bus Strike in East Providence is Averted

After authorizing the union to go on strike last week if necessary and picketing a meeting of the East Providence School Committee, Ocean State Transit and Local 251 Teamsters have agreed tentatively to sign a new contract and avoid a bus strike effecting East Providence and Barrington schools.  The contract includes drivers, aides and monitors.  Over 100 East Providence drivers and some 96 monitors and aides had recently voted to join the union.  Barrington bus employees are currently organizing with the same union.

 According to Local 251 a tentative agreement was reached between Teamsters Local 251 and Ocean State Transit, a subsidiary of Student Transportation of America (STA).  “Our co-workers will be very happy with this tentative agreement,” said Ocean State Transit Bus Driver Charlene Gomes.  They were willing to strike to get a fair deal and the company knew it.”

 “Our rank-and-file committee members were invaluable in these negotiations; they knew the business inside and out and were able to prioritize the needs of the workers,” said Nick Williams, Local 251 Business Agent.  

 A date will be set soon for a ratification vote.  “We believe this tentative agreement recognizes the commitment the workers have to safely transporting our children every day,” said Local 251 Principal Officer Matthew Taibi.  “While we have a few minor details to work out, we anticipate that the workers will ratify this recommended tentative agreement, averting a strike. We appreciate the community support. We believe it was a big reason we were finally able to break through the last remaining issues and get a deal,” Taibi added.

The tentative deal has been confirmed by the bus company who said in a statement that  “We look forward to a vote by Local 251 drivers and monitors, as we continue to offer safe and reliable service to the children and families of East Providence Schools.”

Watchemoket Community Meeting Well Attended

A public community meeting was held on January 15th at Tockwotton on the Waterfront to begin preliminary discussion on the Watchemoket revitalization project.  Mayor Bob DaSilva, and city planners and economic development directors Bill Fazioli and Jim Moran were present to discuss the plans.  A standing room only crowd of residents were present. “It was a great turnout at an interactive public meeting to discuss and gain input in the development of Watchemoket Square and the EP Waterfront Gateway,” said at-large councilman Bob Rodericks in attendance for the meeting.  “Folks commented on everything from traffic, parking, waterfront cleanup, public access, the arts & entertainment, bike path and other mixed use of this heretofore neglected diamond in the rough.  All is preliminary and all options are on the table,” he said.  Also participating was Senator Valerie Lawson.

Also discussed was the Washington Bridge Rehabilitation and Redevelopment Project and the proposed improvements to the Washington Bridge that will dramatically affect economic development initiatives in the City, particularly the East Providence waterfront claim planners.  RIDOT has applied for a $25 million Federal BUILD grant that will fund a portion of these improvements.

Watchemoket Square Revitalization

Watchemoket Square East Providence Waterfront Gateway.  The City has received an EDA grant to fund an urban design study that will develop improvement recommendations in the Watchemoket Square area.  Beta Group has been selected as the primary contractor to complete this study that will include:

  • Identifying appropriate locations for welcome and wayfinding and branding signage;
  • Recommendations for potential locations for additional, convenient public parking for visitors to the Square;
  • Recommendations for strengthening connectivity and walkability using a complete streets approach;
  • Working with the Arts Council to incorporate public art in the revitalization and redevelopment efforts;
  • Develop placemaking recommendations that foster and support downtown vibrancy and entrepreneurship.

In addition, a $75,000 Main Street Improvement grant from the Commerce Corporation of Rhode Island will be used to fund some of the installation of the recommended design improvements within the Square.

Odd Fellows Home Rehab

Recently purchased by a developer (Indigo Holdings) from the City, the property will be developed as a mixed use property containing retail on the first level and office uses on the upper levels.

The Residences at Bold Point

This is the empty former Hot Rides auto repair and dealership at the bottom of Warren Avenue and the Vets. Parkway.  The developer has received approval from the East Providence Waterfront Commission to construct a 12,000 square foot, two story, 22 unit multi-family residential development.  The market is identified by the developer as a mix of couples and single professionals who cannot afford the Providence market.  Construction of this project will begin this Fall, with anticipated completion of in early 2020.

There was much more to the presentation which can be downloaded and seen here:  https://www.eastprovidencebusiness.com/sites/eastprovidenceedc/files/news/watchemocket_square_eprov_waterfont_gateway_01.10.2020_final_1.pdf

 Grassy Plains Park Due for Rehab

A community meeting was held in Riverside to discuss future plans for rehabilitation of a long neglected park in Riverside.  The meeting in late January was sponsored by Ward 4 councilman Ricardo Mourato and Ward 3 councilman Nathan Cahoon.  Mourato moderated the discussion.  Joining the crowd in attendance was at-large councilman Bob Rodericks and school committee at-large member Joel Monteiro.  In a prior statement given to the Grassy Plains social media page, Mayor DaSilva wrote that “the city has requested $400,000 of RIDEM Recreation Development grant funds to be aligned with $150,000 of City funds for a total project cost of $550,000.”   DaSilva went on to say that “community assets such as parks, libraries and schools add so much value to a community.  As a parent and coach I have had the pleasure of traveling around New England and seeing how some communities invest in their recreational facilities.  One of the capital improvements I would like to see for East Providence is investment and improvements in our underutilized recreational facilities.  Grassy Plains park is one of those facilities that has been forgotten and neglected but with a little investment would be an amazing community asset,” added the Mayor in urging residents to attend.  More discussion will follow at subsequent council meetings.

City Council to Address Speeding Problem

The city council continued their conversation last month to alleviate what many see as a speeding epidemic in the city.  At the heart of their discussion is the long-time effort of council president and Ward 1 councilor Bob Britto.  “I have been trying to deal with this for over four years now on the council,” said Britto.  “In school zones and throughout the city,” he added.  The Britto resolution read, in part: “that the members of the City of East Providence City Council support the use of automated speed cameras in school zones as a means of combatting excessive speeding within our City limits;  That the Administration, by working with the East Providence Police and School Department, identify suggested locations consistent with the provisions of the Rhode Island Automated School Zone Speed Enforcement Act, where automated speed cameras in school zones would be most beneficial; and  That the Administration is also encouraged to begin the process of getting all of the necessary approvals from the Director of Transportation for the operation of automated speed cameras on any state road or highway as well as determine the most expeditious manner of selecting an appropriate vendor for the identified locations.” 

Britto addressed a theme from some residents that this may be seen as a “money grab.”  “I want to make it clear that this is not about generating more income.  This is a public safety issue.  I’ve been battling this for some time,” Britto said.  “This is one of the top complaints I get from constituents.  We’ve discussed this long enough, it’s time for action.”  Councilors Mourato and Rodericks urged that any fines collected be put directly into a “public safety type account” and not into the general budget fund.  “This is not a money grab,” said Mourato.

The rest of the council signaled support for Britto’s initiative.  Ward 2 councilwoman Anna Sousa also proposed the resolution that legislation be sought to that “state traffic laws need to be updated and expanded to allow municipalities to use speed cameras at other locations including intersections and throughways; whereas, technology exists that would allow traffic lights to also monitor vehicle speed and then automatically switch from green to yellow to red to help slow vehicle traffic,” said Sousa’s resolution in part.  Sousa and Britto talked about the possibility of speed bumps in some areas.  “There are removable speed bumps that can be taken down when it snows, etc.” stated Britto.

Is Your Number Up? Quips Councilor Mourato

Ward 4 councilman Ricardo Mourato wants house numbers in the city to be prominently placed and used a little humor to make the point at a January council meeting.  “Even though ordinances exist in this matter, some residents don’t post their house numbers the right way,” Mourato said.  A Bristol police officer, Mourato cites the need for public safety vehicles to be able to respond quickly to the right home should the need arise.  “These house numbers need to be placed in plain sight right near the main door or home entrance,” he stated.  Council members also remarked how some street numbers were out of sequence.  “Numbers can jump from 20 to 22 and then to 39, etc. with no pattern at all.”  The public was reminded that an ordinance exists that requires residents to properly indicate house numbers.  

City Financing of New High School on Solid Ground

City Hall and school department officials are pleased with the financing tract for the new high school.  Officials were pleased with financing rates as they closely monitor the budget provided by voters.  Officials report that “the city of East Providence has locked in an attractive 1.5 percent interest rate on the initial short-term borrowing for the City’s new $189.5 million high school. The first financing is a Bond Anticipation Note for $78 million that will mature in 17 months. The BAN provides financing for the first phase of construction.”  At the time the Bond Anticipation Note matures, the City plans to issue the long-term bonds to permanently finance the new high school complex. The 1.5 percent rate is below the City’s initial October 2019 projection, saving more than $1.5 million in interest costs.

 “We continue our efforts to be as cost-effective as possible,” Mayor Bob DaSilva said. “After a request for proposal process, we directly placed this financing with Bank of America.  “Not only did we accomplish a low rate, but we saved an estimated $50,000 on transaction fees.”  The City, together with Shechtman Halperin Savage LLP (bond counsel) and Hilltop Securities Inc. (municipal adviser), has been working on the overall high school financing plan for nearly a year.

“Our team has considered a number of scenarios, made projections and met with the Rhode Island Department of Education and the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank in order to be as efficient as possible and lock in the lowest cost of borrowing for our citizens,” DaSilva added.

The financing resolution was presented by Councilman Nate Cahoon who had been chairman of the original school building committee and remains active in that role helping to oversee the project.  “We are on time, at or under budget and everything looks good to date,” said Cahoon.

Sabin Point Beach Cleanup on Track

Part of the discussion at the January 7th City Council meeting was about the $850,000 grant awarded to East Providence to make Sabin Point beach swimmable someday soon.

East Providence had been granted $850,000 from a government brokered settlement with Volkswagen over the company’s diesel-emissions scandal. The funds are part of a near $160 million award that Rhode Island and other states received because Volkswagen altered emissions testing results. Former Attorney General Peter Kilmartin directed that the awards go to "improving the environment." The money was earmarked for the Sabin Point beach with the intent to make the beach swimmable again. The City received the money in December of 2018.

In discussing this item at recent City Council meetings, at-large councilman Bob Rodericks asked for an update. "I have received concerns from some residents that they want to make sure the grant is used for its intended purpose of cleaning up Sabin Point beach. I've also received a request from the Providence Journal in this regard," said Rodericks.

City finance director Malcolm Moore responded that all of the money remains for the intended purpose. "In 2013, the City of East Providence and Save the Bay had conducted numerous site visits to identify areas and opportunities for storm water infiltration. The City secured a Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) grant to hire an engineering consultant to prepare a comprehensive analysis and design of improvements to the Sabin Point watershed to reduce bacteria, nitrogen and phosphates that are currently being discharged into the upper Narragansett Bay with no existing pretreatment," said Moore.

During the fall of 2018, the engineering firm ESS Group, Inc. completed the Comprehensive Storm water Management Plan with funding provided by RIDEM that identified 7 projects that will significantly improve the water quality of the upper Narragansett Bay. "By the use of City, RIDEM and New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission (NEIWPCC) funds, the City has completed two infiltration/pretreatment projects during the summer/fall of 2018, and the recently acquired Volkswagen Settlement forfeiture funds in the amount of $850,000 that were awarded to the City in December 2018 will allow for the design, permitting and construction of the remaining 5 infiltration/pretreatment projects that were identified in the Comprehensive Storm water Management Plan," added Moore.

The remaining 5 storm water infiltration/pretreatment projects that were identified in the Comprehensive Storm water Management Plan will be designed, permitted and constructed during the next 2 years. Save The Bay, RIDEM, Department of Health and Brown University have partnered with the City to provide technical assistance, community outreach and water quality monitoring.

"These funds can only be used at Sabin Point for the purposes of storm water management and pre-treatment. Staff turnover has helped to delay the project a bit, but we have the money and the project is a go," added Moore.

School Department Happenings

School Special Needs Budget Up $1M

The School Committee was told last month that, as predicted, expenses for special education have ballooned beyond the department’s control.  “Overall we are ending in the positive for FY 2020 but we have an addition of some 30 new special education out of district placements which came in after November 1st,” said schools Finance Director Craig Enos.  “Some of these placements were determined by ushe others were students who moved here already with binding Individual Education Plans (IEP’s).  About half were DCYF or Craft (Bradley) programs,” said Enos.

“For these additional students we’re looking at a budget shortfall in the three special education areas of approximately $1M.  We will be bringing in a revised budget next meeting which will show reductions in some areas.  You will be able to see the increased need for special education tuition,” added Enos.

“So the DCYF has the authority to send these students and place them here in programs?” asked board Chairman Charlie Tsonos.  “Yes, they register the students here and just drop off the file.  There isn’t anything we can do,” responded Enos.  “This is not a new development,” said Tsonos.  “Correct.  We do think that the law that created the Craft program needs to be revisited.  A lot of our budget goes there,” Enos said.

Crowley’s Contract Extended – Narrowly

In a somewhat surprising move, the School Committee agreed to extend the contract of Superintendent of Schools Kathryn Crowley through the 2021-2022 school year.  The move assures that the Superintendent will be in the district for the scheduled completion of the new high school.  Crowley felt it was important for her to remain with the project from start to finish.  “I would like to provide the community with continuity and thoroughness of oversight to complete what we started,” Crowley stated.  The vote to extend Crowley’s contract was approved by a split 3 to 2 vote.  Jessica Beauchaine Ward 4, Karen Oliveira Ward 3 and at-large member Joel Monteiro voted to extend.  Board Chairman Charlie Tsonos and Ward 2 member Tony Ferreira voted against the extension.  Tsonos would only add that he supports the Superintendent but didn’t see the need for an extension.  Crowley was chosen as the Rhode Island School Superintendent of the Year for 2020.

Richard Small New Career Center Director

Richard Small, currently a dean at Martin Middle School, has been hired to replace retired Career Center Director Karen Mellen.  Mellen retired and left in December 2019.  Small cannot start in his new position until he finishes his principal’s certification which he is slated to receive this May.  Small will mentor under Superintendent Crowley who is currently overseeing the Career Center’s responsibilities.  “I like that we’re promoting from within,” said Crowley.

Riverside Resident Packs Away Holiday Display for Another Year

Once again Dennis and Nancy Carrier have delighted hundreds of holiday decoration aficionados with their Adams avenue Christmas display in Riverside.  Each year the Carriers bring out their illuminated decorations and a parade of cars make a regular pilgrimage to see the extravaganza. "I start decorating right after Halloween," said Carrier as The Reporter visited his home in early January. "I've lost track of how many items we have, but it's a lot," he chuckled as cars rode by, many honking horns in approval. Carrier said the response from neighbors and others riding by has been enthusiastic. "Everyone seems to enjoy it and it's certainly a labor of love," he said. The Carrier display includes an eclectic arrangement of decorations. There are the three stooges, Santa in a sleigh floating in the air, snoopy and his doghouse as well as choirs, plenty of snowmen and many other brightly colored figures.  Look for the massive display to expand as the recently retired driver for the Pepsi-Cola company has a little more time on his hands.  "Shhh, don't tell my wife," Carrier smiles.

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