December 1, 2022

What have we learned?

Posted

"Start with what's necessary. Then start working on the possible. And suddenly, you're doing what was impossible." –St. Francis Assisi

In the past three years, the only constant was change. COVID, a new high school, rise and falls of natural resources, and a new form of government. So much has happened, but the question remains: what have we learned?

As your Councilman, I take the time to reflect on our city's legislative items, developments, and the future of our sustainability. I ask myself, "What does tomorrow look like for East Providence? What can we do better? What should not be revisited?" Finally and most importantly, "How do we create more of a government that is sustainable and accountable for and to the people?"

This term, we took care of what was necessary, adjusting to the new form of government. Now, with some acquired insight, here are possibilities to improve economic methods to become better financial stewards of our city's finances AND create a more equitable spread of power to the people of our city.

In 2020 I spearheaded a discussion and ballot question to reconvene the Charter Commission. This would be done to review our city charter more consistently. This seemed to be a welcomed change, with a 67.4% voter approval rate. Our current Charter will now be reviewed every eight years. They will reconvene in January 2023.

The commission will consist of hard-working, tax-paying, everyday people who want to see our city's laws be fair, equitable, and a vessel for the people.

The incoming Council will have that opportunity to debate and work with the new Charter Commission to make necessary changes to our Charter. A proper legislative process. As it is a living document serving the people, it will require ongoing improvements. My duty as a councilman is to see this process through and provide a valiant effort to ensure our city's future always thrives through a balanced and fair legislative process. If re-elected, I will spearhead this conversation, especially in the following sections of our Charter:

Sec. 2-1.0 Council not to interfere in appointments or removal by Mayor; Council to act through Mayor in dealing with subordinates.
During the first year of his four-year term, the Mayor selectively denied department heads to attend council meetings, which interrupted progress on projects and the legislative process. After repeatedly asking the City Solicitor on record if the issue could be remedied by ordinance, the answer was a resounding, "NO." I took it upon myself to research the Charter and ultimately found the charter provisions that did, in fact, provide the language needed, which resulted in a subsequent passing of an ordinance. This should be memorialized in the Charter.

Sec. 5-12. Adoption of budget.

Sec. 5-3. Preparation and submission of budget.
The change from a City Manager to a Mayoral form of government reduced the time period for the Council to study and pass the budget. I introduced an ordinance that allowed additional time. However, the Charter should be changed to memorialize the ordinance.

Sec. 3-9. City solicitor.
The Mayor selects the solicitor and assistant solicitor. The Council, as a separate branch of government, should have the autonomy to select a solicitor that will have the best interest in the legislative process and, most importantly, the people we govern.

Boards and Commissions.
With the exception of two boards, the Mayor appoints all 200 plus members to all boards and commissions, including the Planning and Zoning Boards. These are crucial boards to be appointed by one member of the city government. By having a diverse selection chosen by different council people within their respective wards, we establish an accurate representation of East Providence.

Sec. 4-7. Transfer of appropriations.
Revise the Mayor's ability to transfer unencumbered appropriations balance from department to department. There is over five million dollars hidden in plain sight in the budget at any given time.

Example: 2020, 2021, and 2022 budgets allocated funds for 13 vacant police positions. I argued that the 13 positions would be impossible to fill within a fiscal year, so why fund that line item to that extent.

There is also a 1.2 million dollar line item for police details. An officer works a detail, the city pays the officer, and the city waits for reimbursement from the contractor/vendor. This is a necessary line item and, at minimum, an over-inflated line item that affects the overall police budget. These funds can be moved within the last three months of the budget.

Sec. 5-15. Fund balance and budget act.
At least 1% of anticipated general fund operating revenues must go into capital improvements.

In budget years 2020 and 2021, all revenues went into capital improvements. I argued that only 1% should go into capital and the remainder into the general fund in order to reduce the tax increase.

It is my recommendation that capital improvement funds be capped at 1%. By creating this change, it places the city's finances free and available for emergencies and gives autonomy at any time to implement new projects, rather than waiting for the fiscal year to end.

Finally:
Currently, there is no mechanism to reevaluate capital improvement projects that have sat on the shelf for three-plus years. Are the needs of the community the same today as there were three years ago?

Example: The clearing of four acres of trees at the Riverside Rec Center. With the building of the new high school, Pierce Field will now be underutilized. Will the community need another soccer field at the Riverside Rec Center?

Like the opening quote, we start with the necessary; then we work on the possible. If we take an honest inventory of where we have been, where we are, and where we want to be and work for the people, this next term will get us to begin working towards what we once thought was impossible.

Ricardo Mourato

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