Mayor Briden Asks for Legal Opinion on EP Election Term Issue
Mayor & At-Large Councilman James Briden has asked City Solicitor Gregory Dias for an opinion on the growing controversy regarding the two or four year term for City Council members. In 2012 city voters approved a charter change calling for four year council and School Committee terms instead of the current two year term. Although voters approved the change, prior City Councils and their administrations never followed through and the two year term has stayed in effect since that 2012 vote.
Former City Solicitor and now City Manager Timothy Chapman advised the council after the 2012 vote that the public's edict needed State House ratification. A belated House and Senate ratification occurred but was never transmitted to the Governor's desk for a signature. The matter died on the vine.
"In accordance with the East Providence City Charter, I have requested a written legal opinion from our City Solicitor on whether State ratification is required for the ballot question changing the Council term from two to four years approved by EP voters in November 2012," said Briden in a weekend press release.
"The second part of my request is that if the answer is no, then does the current Council term now change to four years or must the change become effective in the next term following the election in November 2018," Briden added.
In April of 2014, former councilperson Chrissy Rossi asked City Clerk Kim Casci if Solicitor Chapman knows "if this Charter Amendment requires General Assembly Ratification and if so what State Law references this." Rossi was on the council at the time the vote was taken.
Chapman's response to a Reporter inquiry in September of 2017 on this issue stated that "...election laws are a power reserved unto the General Assembly and it is necessary to seek validation and ratification by the General Assembly. Obviously, in order for the bill to become law it also needs to be transmitted to the Governor for signature or for the 10 days without her signature to elapse to become law."
The State House approved bill was never transmitted to the Governor by the R.I. Senate. No formal explanation was ever given as to why this didn't happen. Source speculation is that influential "insiders" did not want the four year term to succeed.
Since that 2012 vote, subsequent City Councils or City Managers did not address the issue. The State Budget Commission was also in East Providence overseeing all aspects of government and also did not remedy the issue.
Voters ballots for City Council in 2012, 2014 and 2016 all stated "Two Year Term" for each council seat. Other than local speculation, the term issue was not raised until Mayoral candidate Chrissy Rossi pressed the City Council on this issue in recent weeks. Ward Three councilman Joe Botelho took up the charge and declared that, “The Senate gave the big middle finger to the people of the city. “They wanted to kill and yet say everyone voted for it,” added Botelho. "This was a conspiracy," he said.
This is not the first time that voter preference has been ignored by City officials. East Providence voters have twice approved the construction of a new recreation center to replace the ancient Riverside Junior High building on Bullocks Point Avenue in Riverside. It never happened.
A majority of the current City Council now seems intent on declaring that the currently sitting council should have their terms retroactively adjusted to four year terms. This, although the last election in 2016 clearly stated that they were running for two year terms. This sentiment is not sitting well with several announced council candidates for the upcoming 2018 election. In effect, sitting council members will automatically be reinstated without any challenge in November.
Opposing views state that a council cannot cause an action to benefit themselves, nor is it fair to now prohibit citizens from running for office this year due to prior irregularities with a public vote.
"You can get all the opinions you want," Botelho told Briden at the last council meeting. "This needs to be fixed now, not next election." Botelho wants the City Clerk to immediately "codify" that 2012 vote. "We (council) don't need to vote on anything," said Botelho. “I hope that the clerk (Kin Casci) performs her ministerial duty and updates the charter.” Botelho cites the 2012 ballot question which said the matter (four year term) "needs no further action upon passage."
The recently concluded Charter Commission, which updated the charter to reflect the city's new elected mayoral form of government, also did not address the 2012 vote changing council terms to four years.