January 21, 2021

East Providence News Briefs

Posted

City Council Hires Attorney to Secure Metacomet Appraiser
The East Providence City Council hired the law firm of Salter McGowan Sylvia & Leonard Inc. for the purpose of hiring an appraiser for the Metacomet golf course on Veteran’s Memorial Parkway.  The controversial proposal was finally passed last month after council members debated the need to hire an outside attorney to advise it on the possibility of taking the closed golf course by eminent domain.  Marshall Developers bought the 138-acre property from the Brad Faxon ownership group for $7.6 million.  After the council voted 4-1 to reject Marshall’s initial and ambitious zoning variance, the developer was relegated to current zoning which would allow for an amusement park, dormitories, and other commercial buildings.  Eventually council members decided to vote on hiring an outside attorney, instead of using their own city solicitor, to guide the appraisal of the Metacomet property.  The initial attempt for such a hire was rejected in a 2-2 council vote.  Ward Two Councilwoman Anna Sousa was unavailable for that vote and later indicated she would support hiring an outside attorney.  Council President Bob Britto and at-large member Bob Rodericks would not vote to have a second vote on the issue at that time.

Ward Four Councilman Ricardo Mourato continued the matter for another vote at its next meeting at which time the council voted approval.  At large councilman Bob Rodericks reiterated his position that “we should not expend taxpayer dollars on hiring another lawyer to then hire an appraiser when we can do that ourselves.”  Rodericks noted that the appraiser would conduct the property appraisal and not the attorney.  “The process of hiring an attorney and an appraisal firm will cost taxpayers many thousands of dollars before any major decisions are ever reached.  Mourato insisted that “an outside attorney is needed to guide us through the process.”  Ward Three councilman Nate Cahoon said he saw no harm in the outside attorney being hired agreeing with Mourato and Sousa.  Council President Bob Britto has explicitly stated his opposition to eminent domain but said he thought it prudent to have a say in the process in the best interest of the City.  “I still don’t think we need another lawyer,” Rodericks said at the December 8th meeting, “but the votes are there (to hire) and I won’t be an obstructionist.  My intent now is to help hire the best qualified firm going forward.” 

Four firms submitted proposals to the council according to council guidelines.  The council voted 4-1 to hire the firm of Salter McGowan Sylvia & Leonard.  Only councilman Mourato voted against.  Although Mourato initiated the effort to hire outside legal advice, he wanted a different law firm.  Mourato recommended the hiring of Jennifer Cervenka of the Cervenka, Green and Ducharme firm.  Mourato was the lone dissenter to hiring the Salter firm.  Britto quoted the Cervenko cover letter in its proposal which stated the firm did “not have direct experience representing a municipality or State entity in an eminent domain law…”  “This firm doesn’t have the experience,” added Britto.  Britto also said that he spoke with each of the firms involved and was told that “the eminent domain process would be very difficult.”

Rodericks also mentioned the lack of experience with the Cervenko law firm in eminent domain cases.  He cited his support for “the very clear and extensive step by step eminent domain process for Rhode Island spelled out by the Salter firm.  I haven’t talked to other council members about this firm but they seem by far to be the most qualified, if we are going to hire an attorney for this, let’s hire a firm who has done this before.”  Councilman Cahoon was the first to recommend the Salter firm, noting their experience and “lack of ties to established ‘mainstream’ political leaders in the state.”  Cahoon also rated all of the firms using a federal contract ranking template and scored the Salter firm highest.  In the end, the Salter firm was hired in a 4-1 vote.  A stipulation was added to Cahoon’s motion to approve, by Rodericks who wanted to cap the legal cost at the previously approved council legal fee line item of $75,000.  That spending limit was approved.

Rhode Island General Laws - Eminent Domain - Title 42, Chapter 64
What are some of the guidelines for eminent domain in Rhode Island?  Here are some facts and figures taken from the statute:

  • Eminent domain is an inherent and historic attribute of the sovereign power of government and has been affirmed as such by federal and state courts.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court in Kelo v. City of New London both affirmed the use of eminent domain powers for economic development purposes and encouraged states to define and limit the exercise of eminent domain for economic development purposes.
  • Notice: The entity shall give the owner(s) of property which may be acquired by eminent domain advanced notice of the potential taking and shall provide the opportunity to sell the property for a negotiated, mutually agreed upon price.
  • Compensation to owners: a minimum of one hundred fifty percent (150%) of the fair market value of the real property; Expenses incidental to transfer of ownership to the acquiring entity, including, but not limited to, recording fees and transfer taxes, evidence of title and surveys and legal descriptions, penalty costs and other charges for prepaying mortgages entered into in good faith, a pro rata share of any prepaid property taxes or assessments for public utilities.

(more provisions can be seen in Title 42 Chapter 64 of the RI General Laws)

What’s in an Appraisal?
As the City moves forward in the process of investigating its options with eminent domain, the first critical step is the assessing of the current value of the Metacomet property.  Those in favor of taking the property from Marshall believe the value is low while Marshall Properties will maintain a much higher value.  If the City votes to take the property by eminent domain, the process will end up in Court at which time a value will be established.  At the time of eminent domain declaration, the City must immediately deposit funds with the Court which will be held until the final legal process plays out.  City Solicitor Michael Marcello has opined that the City would have to pay Marshall a fee commensurate with the developer’s “best use” potential.  Many in favor of eminent domain for open space maintain that the buyout price is closer to the city tax valuation which is lower than the purchase price.  “We have discussed this over and over.  Let’s find out the value.  If it is out of our reach, we know we can’t do it.  If it is in reach, then we know we can do it,” said Mourato.

Remaining Options with Metacomet
With the hiring of an independent law firm to guide the potential of the City procuring the Metacomet golf course through Eminent Domain, there appears to be three options for the City Council to consider.  “We basically have three options in front of us,” said Rodericks.  “We take the property by Eminent Domain at a price to be determined; Marshall builds a development under current allowed zoning (Plan B) or we negotiate a new plan, more in line with community opinion.  I don’t think that anyone (other than Marshall) wants Plan B,” Rodericks added.  “The council faces either Eminent Domain or a new development plan more in line with public concerns,” Cahoon said.   

As of this writing, the City Council is awaiting a signed agreement with the Salter McGowan Sylvia & Leonard law firm.  “I want to make sure that this (law) firm is directly responsible to the council and no one else,” said Mourato.  He was assured by Council President Britto and the rest of the council that that would be the case.  The council has voted to cap legal expenses for this firm at the line item in the budget of $75,000 for extra council “legal services.”  This is an amount above and beyond regular legal services approved in the budget.  The council has had off and on discussions about hiring its own attorney separate from the City Solicitor.  That was the original intent of the $75,000 line item in question.

City announces RFP for Seawall Engineering Study and Design
The City of East Providence is requesting proposals for the study and design of the seawall at Crescent Park.  The seawall has incurred damage over the years since it was first constructed in the early 1900s and is now at risk of collapsing.  The City is seeking the immediate services of a qualified engineering firm (consultant) to advise the City on the management of the failing seawall, as well as develop conceptual repair alternatives and corresponding cost estimates.

“The Park and its access to the bay are some of the city’s most treasured features,” East Providence Mayor Bob DaSilva said. “We are sad to have lost our seawall to erosion and welcome proposals that will provide a way to find the best erosion control method.”  Interested parties should submit their proposal no later than Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 at 11a.m.

The bids should be submitted as follows:  Specifications may be downloaded from the City’s website under Current Bids.

http://www.eastprovidence.com/content/9457/10056/default.aspx 

Four (4) copies of a proposal shall be submitted in one (1) sealed envelope to East Providence City Hall, Controllers Office, Room 103, Attn: Dawn Kenney, Procurement Specialist, 145 Taunton Ave., East Providence, RI  02914 no later than WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 6, 2021                AT 11AM. The bids will be publicly recorded.  Bids received with a time of 11:01 AM or later will be rejected. The envelope needs to be marked BID EP20/21-08. 

A non-mandatory onsite meeting was scheduled for December 17, 2020 AT 2PM with all interested development firms for an opportunity to discuss the project with city officials.  Any questions regarding the RFP may be directed to Erik Skadberg, PE, City Engineer eskadberg@eastprovidenceri.gov or Stephen H. Coutu, P.E., Director of Public Works, scoutu@eastprovidenceri.gov in writing.  The City of East Providence reserves the right to reject any or all bids/proposals and reserves the right to award the RFP to the bidder deemed to be in the best interest of the City.

Council passes Energy Resolution.
The East Providence City Council unanimously approved a resolution in December authorizing Mayor Bob DaSilva to enter into a contract with Constellation NewEnergy Inc., an Exelon company and one of the leading energy suppliers in the nation.  The resolution, sponsored by Council President Robert Britto, enables the city of East Providence to take advantage of municipal savings through the Rhode Island Energy Aggregation Program, a program administered by the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns.  The program enables municipalities to negotiate lower electricity rates, energy efficiency options, green power procurement and more. The move will save the City more than $221,000 over the three-year contract.  “Our administration continuously seeks opportunities that will benefit our City while providing relief to our taxpayers and this contract with Constellation NewEnergy will enable us to do just that,” Mayor DaSilva said. “We look forward to working with Constellation Energy.”

Long Time DPW director steps down, City seeks new Director
The City of East Providence is seeking a new director of public works.  The opening for director of public works comes after Stephen Coutu, who has led the department since March 2001, accepted a position with the Bristol County Water Authority.

Prior to his role as DPW director, Coutu spent four years as engineer/deputy director of the department where he oversaw the daily management of DPW operations, supervised and inspected work performed by contractors and engineers and reviewed all subdivisions and development projects for conformance.

Coutu joins the Bristol County Water Authority as its new executive director and lead engineer. He will remain in his current role as DPW director until January and will assist in the transition of a new director.

“We thank Mr. Coutu for his years of service to the City of East Providence and years of dedication to the residents of East Providence,” Mayor Bob DaSilva said. “It will be difficult to find someone of Steve’s caliber, but we will be diligently seeking someone as qualified as he to continue the department’s progress.  “We wish him well on his new endeavor,” DaSilva added.

Some Requirements of DPW Position:
Salary:  $100,000 to $115,000 annual (based on experience).

JOB DESCRIPTION: Under the administrative direction of the Mayor, this position assumes primary responsibility for directing, administering, and coordinating the various activities and programs of the Department of Public Works.  This responsible management position is a mayoral, at will, non-union appointment that is part of the Mayor’s Cabinet of Department Heads. The incumbent supervises the employees, projects, activities, and sets priorities for the following divisions:  Highway, Parks, Central Garage, Public Buildings, Building Inspection, Engineering, Refuse and Recycling, Water and Wastewater Utilities, and Streetlights in order to ensure a high level of efficiency within the department and ensure compliance with the City Charter and ordinances, and related State and Federal laws.  Performs related work as required.

Subject to the provisions of the City Charter and to administrative determination of policy, work involves full responsibility in the planning, organizing, directing the work of the public works divisions.  Essential duties may include, but are not limited to the following:

o          Provides coordination and supervision both directly and through subordinates of approximately 100 full-time employees, and a number of part-time and seasonal employees within the Public Works Department.

o          Determines effective and efficient use of the labor and financial resources in meeting the operational requirements of the Department.

o          Develops the Department’s budget and Capital Improvement Plan, maintains financial records, and analyzes operational costs. Presents annual budget to the Mayor and City Council.

o          Works closely with the City Administration, Public Works Division Supervisors, and other City Departments on planning and implementing City projects.

o          Works with staff in the engineering and implementation of public works improvements in the City such as roadway and drainage improvements, water and wastewater utility improvements, park improvements and upgrades, and improvements to City buildings and facilities.

o          Develops department policy and procedures to ensure timely completion of tasks and activities in order to meet City goals and objectives and comply with City policies and procedures.

o          Provides regular updates and reports to the Mayor on the Department’s activities and projects, and may provide the same to City Council.

o          Provides for contractual oversight and administration for the collection of refuse and recycling, and wastewater operations.

o          Develops Requests for Proposals, Invitations to bid, and ensures compliance with purchasing rules and regulations.

o          Responsible for supervision of public works improvement contracts, and other contractual and/or consulting services.

o          Assures timely and appropriate application for State and/or Federal grant assistance when available.

o          Interacts with residents and businesses of the City to ensure proper service and appropriately responds to any complaints.

o          Plans and Directs emergency response activities such as snow storms, hurricanes, floods, water and wastewater utility interruptions.

o          Serves on the City’s Waterfront District Commission as a member of the Design Review Committee to ensure development projects meet appropriate engineering and design standards.

Outstanding ability in administering the activities of a large, multi-faceted department engaged in public works engineering, construction, and operation. Ability to maintain cooperative relationships with employees, division and department heads, other city officials, the public, and state and federal regulatory agencies. Comprehensive knowledge of the principles and practices of civil engineering with special reference to municipal engineering. Thorough knowledge of materials, methods and techniques of public works construction.

Ability to supervise a large and diverse staff, and experience with public sector collective bargaining agreements. Must possess strong communication (both verbally and in writing), and decision-making skills.

Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from a college or university with an ABET accredited civil engineering curriculum, or an equivalent related field. Certified as a Professional Engineer in the State of Rhode Island or able to obtain reciprocity within six (6) months; preferred. Ten or more years of progressively responsible experience in municipal public works activities, projects, and engineering; or any equivalent combination of experience and training which provides the desired ability, knowledge, and skill.  Experience in supervising staff that are part of collective bargaining agreements, preferred.

East Providence High School Continues on Track to Completion
In the midst of a global pandemic, which has involved almost every aspect of life everywhere, the often called “state of the art” new East Providence High School is just about halfway completed toward its September 2021 start date.  Project Manager Sam Bradner of the Peregrine company told members of the high school building committee that “we’re 48% complete.”  In a zoom type meeting broadcast over an EPSD YouTube channel in early December, the committee was given a mostly positive report.  “A lot of classrooms and other areas are now recognizable,” Bradner told the committee.  It is also apparent that the lengthy process to change the entrance to the school from state owned Pawtucket Avenue and accompanying changes to the plaza across the street from the school, is just about finalized.  While a few site workers have been sidelined due to Covid testing, there has been very minimal impact on the work force the committee was told. 

EPHS to retain its name, memorials and school colors:
A fair amount of time was spent in a discussion of the process for keeping the name of the school, its school colors of red and white and other history within the building.  A signage package will basically carry over the school colors, the name East Providence High School and other names throughout the building representing the school’s 137-year-old storied history.  “We will represent the historical period of Townie Pride from its inception in 1884, current building in 1952 and new structure for 2021,” said Bradner and project managers.   The building committee was glad to support such historical carryover. The committee will meet again on January 11, 2021 at 6:30 PM and can be viewed on YouTube. 

Roger Williams University and City Partner to offer Tuition
Roger Williams University and the City of East Providence announced an innovative partnership to provide a special discounted rate for city residents and municipal employees on all of RWU’s University College (UC) degree programs, as well as specialized workforce and professional development opportunities on professional certificates.

“This new partnership between RWU’s University College and the City of East Providence is an exceptional opportunity to provide innovative educational programs that broaden access to job and skills training and spur vital economic growth in Rhode Island,” said RWU President Ioannis Miaoulis. “I want to especially recognize UC Dean Gena Bianco, East Providence Mayor Bob DaSilva, and city officials William Fazioli and Napolean Gonsalves for their commitment to this partnership.”

Through this unique partnership, East Providence residents and municipal employees will have access to 18 associate and bachelor degree programs and a wide-ranging portfolio of certificates to advance their educational and professional development. The special discounted tuition program will provide savings of $250 or more per 3-credit course off UC’s already affordable tuition rate. Residents and municipal employees can choose from:

Bachelor Degrees

  • Community Development
  • Cybersecurity & Networking
  • Emergency Medical Services
  • Paralegal Studies
  • Public Administration

Associate Degrees

  • Associate of Arts
  • Criminal Justice
  • Early Childhood Education

Certificates

  • Corporate Communication
  • Digital Forensics
  • Health Services Administration
  • Nurse Paralegal
  • Public Safety

“These are just a few examples of UC’s award-winning programming, which recently ranked No. 7 in the nation for 2021 Best Online Colleges for Return on Investment by OnlineU (formerly Guide to Online Colleges). Courses are delivered in-person, online and hybrid format (both in-person and online) through UC’s Providence Campus at 1 Empire Plaza.

Building a skilled labor force is a vital part of our City’s future and thanks to RWU and our collaboration with the many employers in our community, we will have additional resources in which to continue to build a skilled workforce,” Mayor Bob DaSilva said.

RWU’s University College and the City of East Providence are also working on a range of workforce and professional development programs designed to meet the needs of residents and local businesses. This includes programs in the construction trades, business, medical and legal fields and more,” said the joint press release.

For information on full program offerings at RWU’s University College, visit https://rwu.edu/uc. To learn more about the special program for city residents and municipal employees, connect with the UC Admissions Office at (401) 254-3838 or uc@rwu.edu.

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