August 15, 2018

News Briefs

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21 House Development Proposed for Riverside

The East Providence City Council gave initial variance approval to the "Hundred Acre Cove" housing development proposal for the corner of Reardon Street and Wampanoag Trail in Riverside, RI at its February 20th, 2018 meeting. The Carpionato Group, a Rhode Island development company, presented a proposal to build 21 single family homes on the long vacant Riverside property which abuts Wampanoag Trail. "We are not aggressively developing the land which will have two cul-de-sacs and will feature traditional New England style clapboard and shingled homes," Frank Montanaro, Assistant to Commercial Development for Carpionato and other company executives told the council. "The homes will have a coastal New England look and will be built on 10,000 square foot minimum lots. Home prices will range from the high $300,000 to high $400,000 range. All homes will have attached garages and will be a first-class development increasing local property values," said Montanaro.

Carpionato Group spokespersons testified that the plan has been received well and approved by city planning and zoning staff. "The plan meets all aspects of the city Comprehensive Plan and all local officials agree with this development," said company officials. In response to Ward Two councilwoman Anna Sousa's questions about potential ground water and flooding potential, officials said that any flooding concerns in the area will be alleviated. "When completed, drainage and water absorption will be better than the vacant land currently has," said Montanaro. "We will satisfy whatever the Planning and Zoning boards require as well as any Department of Environmental Management restrictions." The area is noted for a high water table.

The company stated that independent studies have shown that there "would be no traffic or other detrimental concerns to the Reardon, Estrelle and Wampanoag Trail area. Company officials also said that the 3 bedroom homes were projected by scientific studies to have approximately 13 school age children. "The state average is about 50 children per 100 homes," said Montanaro. "We are very confident that there will be no negative impact on local schools." School committee member Jessica Beauchaine said that she neither supported or disapproved of the project but "I want you to know we are at capacity across the board with school census." Resident Chrissy Rossi told the council that she envisioned "many more than 13 school age children could be present" and that increased traffic would be a problem. "Have you driven by Bay View (academy) in the morning," Rossi asked.

Paul Doppke, who lives next to the proposed development on Estrell Drive, told the council that he approves of the plan. "I have lived next to this vacant land for a long time. My fear is that someday I would be looking at the back of a Wal Mart. This is a great plan. The developers have communicated with the neighbors and have done a great job. I own a four bedroom home and have no children. I support this very much," said Doppke.

Resident Wayne Borges lives on Reardon Ave. and told the council that while he has concerns he was willing to listen further to the developer's plan. Borges said he wanted good notice and communication on any plans. Ward three councilman Joe Botelho said that "if I lived in that area, I would want it built." Ward four councilman Brian Faria said that "as this is in my ward, I will set up community meetings with the developer to allow residents to comment." Carpionato officials said that they will "readily attend any meetings and provide all the answers and information the neighbors want." The initial approval was granted unanimously by the city council. Neighborhood meetings and final approvals will be scheduled.

In November, 2017, the Carpionato Group purchased all but two of the closed Benny's stores. The company is putting together a diverse group of retail tenants to locate in the former Benny's closed stores. Plans for the Pawtucket avenue Benny's have not been disclosed. It was the smallest of the Benny's.

State Rep. Gregg Amore Introduces School Security Bill

In a Press Release issued late last month, Rhode Island State Representative Gregg Amore, Dist. 65, East Providence announced that he will be introducing two pieces of legislation aimed at preventing violence in Rhode Island’s schools in the wake of the Florida high school shooting.
Amore is a history teacher and currently the Athletic Director for East Providence High School.

“Simply put, too many of our children are dying in our schools. And while the debate over access to guns continues to wage on a national level, these two bills will protect our children while we fight for a solution to our national gun violence epidemic,” said Representative Amore.

The first bill would require that all Rhode Island public schools have a school resource officer on the premises. If a school has over 1,200 students, two school resource officers would need to be present.

“This bill is necessary because some of our schools already have a resource officer, but others do not. Having a trained police officer in our schools is the first line of defense in stopping a potentially deadly and tragic situation from unfolding in Rhode Island’s schools,” added Representative Amore.

The second bill would appropriate additional state school and housing reimbursement for renovation and construction in schools that follows national school security best practices.

“The amount of upgrades and new school construction that is needed in our state is no secret. But, along with making our schools into acceptable teaching facilities for our students, we cannot ignore security updates that will protect our kids from acts of violence as well. Our schools need to be safe, dry, healthy, and most importantly, secure, and this bill will accomplish that,” concluded Representative Amore.

City Water Quality Deemed Safe

City Manager Timothy Chapman and Water Superintendent Jim Marvel told the city council last month that the city water system was safe for everyone to drink. Responding to criticism of a letter which was mailed to residents stating in part that "Our water system recently violated a drinking water standard. Although this is not an emergency, as our customers, you have a right to know what happened, what you should do, and what we are doing to correct this situation." The letter did cause some alarm with the passage stating, " Some people who drink water containing TTHM in excess of the MCL over many years may experience problems with their liver, kidneys, or central nervous system, and may have an increased risk of getting cancer."

City officials stressed that there was never any immediate danger to the public and there was no need to avoid drinking or using the water. "The letter that went out was direct language from the state department of Health. It was required to send out," said both Marvel and city DPW Director, Steve Coutu. However, city officials acknowledged that they could have attached a further notice from the city which more clearly delineated the situation as a non-emergency.

Coutu explained that the city is installing an aeration system in the new Kent Heights storage tank which will alleviate most, if not all of the problem of "Disinfection Byproducts." Director Marvel cautioned that a couple more notices may be sent to residents before the aeration system is completed by August. "That should be the end of these required notices."

City - School Tension over Water Notices

It appeared that city and school administrators did not have a detailed conversation about the February 6th violation notice that many households received. Superintendent of Schools Kathryn Crowley quickly acted upon hearing unofficially about the water notices by supplying all public schools with bottled drinking water and covering up school water fountains. "I understood that by now the school water fountains would be uncovered but they are not," said Manager Chapman. "I think it is accurate to say that there was a lack of communication on both sides (city and school). A lot of this could have been avoided," added Chapman.

For her part, Superintendent Crowley told the school committee that she will continue to make bottled water available to students and staff through the remainder of this school year. Even though city officials have disagreed with this action, Crowley maintained that she will continue to be cautious until the situation is considered totally solved by August.

RI Health Department Checking on Kiwi Allergies

In a February 9, 2018 press release, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) said that it is investigating allergic-type reactions among Rhode Island students. Three East Providence schools are involved, Hennessey, Silver Spring and Orlo Avenue elementary schools. The RIDOH is investigating the occurrence of allergic-type reactions in school students today that are associated with the consumption of kiwi fruit.

"RIDOH received reports of approximately 34 students experiencing symptoms, including itching of the lips and mouth, hives and tongue swelling. Fresh kiwi fruit was consumed immediately prior to onset of these reactions. Some of the students were treated in the school setting, and a few at the emergency department, with antihistamines (such as Diphenhydramine or Benadryl®) and all improved. The cause of the reaction is unknown at this time," said the department press release.

"The fruit was cut and bagged at Roch's Fresh Foods in West Greenwich. Roch's has been very cooperative as RIDOH works with schools to ensure that all the fresh fruit from this distributor is discarded. In addition, the distribution of kiwis from Roch's Fresh Foods has been suspended. Because fruit had also been distributed to Massachusetts, RIDOH is coordinating with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

It is very unlikely that any delayed allergic reaction will occur from consuming these kiwis. All of the reported allergic reactions happened immediately after consuming the fruit. However, if any student does experience these symptoms, parents should contact their healthcare providers for advice and guidance."

EP Police Captain Given Reins at City HR Department

Early last month Captain Michael David, Services Commander for the East Providence Police Department, has taken over administration of the city's embattled Human Resources Department. "Effective Monday, February 12, I am naming Police Captain Michael David as Acting HR Director," City Manager Timothy Chapman told the City Council tonight at the February 6th council meeting. "The H.R. department will have two analysts and one Acting Director for now. Captain David will run the department and report directly to me," said Chapman.

The H.R. Department has been without a Director since former Director Kathleen Waterbury left after receiving a $575,000 insurance settlement for harassment against former city officials.

"I offered Captain David to the City Manager," said Police Chief Christopher Parella after the meeting. "The Captain is very qualified and experienced and will smooth things along until the city is ready to move forward. The Captain will report to the Manager but is still within the Police Department hierarchy," said Chief Parella. "He should be very capable of operating the day to day needs of Human Resources," added the Chief.

City Worker Charged

In a move, to this point, unrelated to daily operations at City Hall, HR employee Leah Stoddard has been placed on paid administrative leave after being arraigned on felony charges of stalking and conspiracy. Stoddard was allegedly trying to track the vehicle of the ex-girlfriend of John Mitchell, who has also been charged in the case. No replies have been received from requests to local police and city officials for information in this matter.

City Police & Fire Pension Board Action

The city council last month approved ordinance amendments relating to city employee pensions. The amendments were recommended by ward four councilman Brian Faria who sits on the city pension board. Language in the amendment reads (in part) as follows:

"Effective February 12, 2018, members retiring from service shall receive an annuity as provided for in the current collective bargaining agreement for police officers and fire fighters."

"All retired police officers and fire fighters currently receiving a service connected disability pension or receiving a service connected pension shall receive a cost of living adjustment as provided for in the current collective bargaining agreement for police officers and fire fighters."

"This ordinance shall take effect upon its second passage and all ordinances and parts of ordinances inconsistent herewith are hereby repealed."

"Medical examinations of a member for consideration of a disability annuity (for a service-connected or non-service-connected disability), as described in this section, shall be made upon application of a member acting on their own behalf, or upon application of the Chief of the department of which said member is employed if the Chief believes that the member is unable to perform his or her duties due to a disability, and that said disability is likely to be permanent."

"Upon death of a retired member while in receipt of a service retirement annuity shall be entitled to a survivor benefit. The survivor benefit annuity is a fixed amount and shall be equal to 67.5% of the deceased members’ annuity. Eligibility for a survivor benefit shall be subject to the following conditions:

(1) The spouse shall have been married to the member at least one year prior to the date of retirement. The annuity shall terminate in any event upon remarriage, and any change in marital status thereafter shall create no rights for the widow to any annuity or any other payment from the system.

(2) The participant was not married at the time of retirement but had unmarried child/children under the age 18 including in utero. The legal guardian of the child/children shall receive the survivor benefit and would terminate upon their attainment of age 18, death or marriage, whichever first occurs.

(a) Minor children shall include children of the blood and adopted children, provided that the proceedings for adoption shall have been initiated at least one year prior to the date of the death of the member."

Lengthy Discussion on Social Media

Upwards to an hour was spent by the city council at its February 20th meeting discussing how the city posts information on its official web page and face book page. Ward One councilman Robert Britto requested procedural information on the city "Social Media, City Facebook and City Website Policy."

"Who is authorized to post official city information or comments on our city web pages," asked Britto. The answer given to Britto and the council was that two people - the Information Technology director and the Content Director for the city web site, are the two people responsible for public posting. "Well, someone else definitely has the password to post," replied Britto.

The council went back and forth discussing the necessity and procedures for city social media posting. The IT Director is Kelly Ahrens and the Web Site coordinator is Robin Robinson. Robinson was the person first hired to implement a city web page and social media page. Robinson recently left the position but has now returned in that capacity.

"There are problems," said Manager Chapman. "Kelly and Robin get told what to post." "That is a violation of our charter," said Ward Three councilman Joe Botelho. "It's the root of the whole problem. Whoever (on the council) is doing this is ought to be expelled. Rules don't matter anymore," added Botelho. "We don't need a policy, just follow the charter and rules," Botelho added. "It is a problem," continued Chapman.

Fire Pits Allowed - Gas or Propane Only

The city will now allow the public to have open fires in pits or appliances that are natural gas or propane. Cooking of food is still allowed on barbecues or charcoal grills. Cooking on these devices shall be in preparation of a meal. The rules state that "propane/natural gas fire places/pits officially designed and listed as an outdoor fire place/pit shall be permitted. Fire places/pits shall be operated according to manufactures instructions in a safe manner. Wood burning or other open burning is not allowed.

A. Fire places/pits shall not be left unattended.

B. Adult supervision is required at all times.

C. Propane tanks shall be listed, in good condition and have a current certification.

Foster Forward Program Tax Exemption Approved

A council resolution to support legislation allowing the Foster Forward program permanent tax exemption was approved. Ward Two councilwoman Anna Sousa proposed the resolution. The resolution basically stated that: "Foster Forward (formerly the Rhode Island Foster Parents Association), is a non-profit organization that is committed to practices that promote permanency and well-being for all young people in foster care, and that provide foster parents with the support and resources they need to be successful; and for over 20 years, the Association has grown from a small network of foster parents to a leading social service organization of more than 20 highly trained professionals who advocate for foster children and families.

"Foster Forward was awarded one of four highly competitive Administration for Children and Families grants to improve services to youth in the child welfare system; and Foster Forward is located in the City of East Providence and is presently being assessed taxes by the City."

Chrissy Rossi Announces for Mayor

Former East Providence School Committee and City Council member Chrissy Rossi has announced her bid to be East Providence's first-ever Mayor. In her statement Rossi said, "I have lived in East Providence since I was five years old. I love this city, care deeply for the residents who choose to make this community their home, and recognize the great potential of its people and location within the State of Rhode Island. Long a community activist, I am asking for your support as I declare myself a candidate for Mayor."

Rossi served two years as an East Providence School Committee member from 2010 to 2012 and two years on the City Council from 2012 to 2014. "I spent five years on the East Providence School Department’s Facilities Subcommittee and was elected both vice-president and president of Whiteknact Elementary and Riverside Middle school’s PTA. I also founded and serve as chair of EP Kids, a 501C3 non-profit organization focused on the children of our city. My commitment to the youngest members of our community is profound. The future of our children depends on what we as adults do to support, create and condone today," said Rossi.

Rossi has also been a volunteer for the Looff Carousel Preservation and Restoration. "My background is diverse. I am a proud product of the East Providence Public School System, studied Information Technology at New England Institute of Technology and received a Certificate in Business Management from Bryant University. I have eight years of experience in cost accounting in the construction industry and for four years, I provided computer tutoring as well as corporate and private computer training."

"Besides working as a licensed and insured realtor, I have a fifteen year collective history working in the construction industry as a cost accountant and project manager. My background, education and career choices provide both the knowledge and experience to qualify me as a candidate for the position of Mayor.

Rossi is the fourth candidate to announce for East Providence's first-ever full time elected Mayor. She joins previously announced candidates Roberto "Bob" DaSilva, Nicholas Oliver and James Russo.

"My goals are simple: encourage and support public safety efforts, enhance public education, guarantee a business-friendly environment that fosters job creation, achieves fiscal stability and affordable living, and improve access to culture and quality of life. We need to combat apathy among our neighbors and elevate the self-esteem of our community to extraordinary levels.

While small businesses define Rhode Island, we need to create a business-friendly environment to attract larger employers who employ many. We must review the tangible tax structure and begin to roll back the costs, thereby encouraging new businesses to relocate here and current business to thrive and reinvest in our community. Economic development is paramount; no one wants to move to a dirty city with too many vacant store fronts. It is vital that we address our crumbling infrastructure and civic blight," continued Rossi.

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