August 20, 2018

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New City Canvassing Board Approves 2018 Elections:
The newly appointed East Providence Canvassing Board held its first meeting on Thursday May 3rd in a tense meeting at City Hall. On Tuesday May 2nd, Mayor and Councilman-at-Large James Briden, nominated Peter Barilla and Nicholas Oliver to fill open seats on the three member canvassing authority. At a sometimes raucous council meeting, Mayor Briden and Ward One councilman Robert Britto voted to approve the appointments. Staying together in opposition, Ward Two councilwoman Anna Sousa, Ward Three councilman Joe Botelho, and Ward Four councilman Brian Faria abstained from voting. Many thought that the three council members had defeated Briden's appointments. However parliamentarians in the audience wondered if the vote had passed or failed due to the abstentions.

A day later the city legal department ruled that Briden's appointments prevailed 2-0 with no objections due to abstentions. Had the three non-voting members actually voted against Barilla and Oliver, the canvassing board would still be two members short.

Mayor Briden swore in the new members the next day and the new canvassing board met a day later. At the start of the meeting former member Tom Riley, who disqualified himself as a board member by changing parties from Republican to Democrat, sat at the board's table and declared he was still on the canvassing authority to the surprise of those gathered in the room.

In the room was candidate for council-at-large, Bob Rodericks, Ward Four council candidate Ricardo Mourato, Ward Two council candidate Joshua Pereira, Mayor James Briden, and council members Anna Sousa, Brian Faria and Robert Britto. Ward Three councilman Joe Botelho was not present. A couple of others were present including attorneys for opposing sides. Republican chairperson Kathy Santos was also present.

Canvassing board attorney Lauren Jones entered the room and asked Tom Riley to leave the board's dais. "I'm on the canvassing board," said Riley. "No you're not," said city attorney Jones. "Oh yes I am," replied Riley as the two sparred back and forth about Riley's proclamation. Attorney Jones then warned Riley that he would call the police and have Riley removed if he didn't leave his seat. "Go ahead," said Riley. Jones advised the new canvassing board to leave the room and they did so.

At-Large council candidate Bob Rodericks entered into a dialogue with Riley in the interim. "Tom, you made your point, why don't you sit in the audience, you are disrupting this meeting. Hasn't our city gone through enough? Bring you complaints to another venue, Tom." Riley replied, "Bob I am still on the board. The ruling was wrong," he continued.

At that point attorney Jones returned and once again asked Riley to leave. "You don't belong here. You received a letter from solicitor Greg Dias which removed you." Next, two East Providence Police officers entered the room and asked Riley to leave. Riley refused. The police calmly gave Riley a chance to explain his reason. "You're disrupting the public session," police Lt. Mark Cadoret told Riley. Cadoret gave Riley time to explain his position and would later be lauded by many in the community for calmly diffusing the situation. After Riley continued to stay seated, the police made a motion toward him. "You don't have to do that," Riley said. "I'll leave." Riley retreated to the first row in the audience. Three East Providence Police officers remained throughout the meeting.

Eventually the new board convened and elected Peter Barilla as Chairman. The board voted that there will be an election in 2018. They also voted that council candidates will run for a four year term. The school committee will also run in 2018 but for two year terms because they are state governed. The board ruled that the Mayor's term will be for four years.

Rhode Island Board of Elections Confirms 2018 Election in EP
The State Board of Elections held their meeting on the East Providence election fiasco on May 14, 2018 at 6 P.M at board headquarters on Branch Avenue. The Board unanimously voted to order East Providence to hold an election in 2018. "Our board's responsibility is to the local voters of East Providence," said election's official Richard Pierce. "East Providence voters saw a ballot in 2016 that said two year terms of office. That is what they saw, that is what they should be voting for," said an emphatic Pierce as other members nodded in approval.

Current City Council members Anna Sousa, Ward Two; Joseph Botelho, Ward Three and Brian Faria, Ward Four had maintained that there would be no election this year due to a never implemented 2012 vote calling for four-year council and school committee terms. May Jim Briden, at-large and Robert Britto, Ward One disagreed and supported an election this year. "I ran on a ballot in 2016 that clearly told the voters it was a two-year term," said Britto. "That's what it should be."

According to City Clerk, Kim Casci, Botelho, Sousa and Faria had called her and told her to codify the charter to include the 2012 vote for four-year terms, thus eliminating a 2018 election. The election was thrown into chaos as candidates had been lining up organizations and raising money to run in 2018. Mayor Briden called for a need to get a legal opinion. Ward Three councilman Joe Botelho said, "We need a decision, which I'll abide by."

Briden and Botelho got their opinion. After a formal complaint was sent to the R.I. Board of Elections and State Attorney General by council at-large candidate Bob Rodericks on April 9, 2018, the state has ruled in favor of elections this 2018. "Mr. Rodericks, thank you for bringing this to the Attorney General’s attention and your interest in keeping government open and accountable to the public," wrote the Attorney General on April 11, 2018. The state Board of Elections Deputy Director, Miguel J. Nunez responded to Rodericks that, "thank you for contacting us. We have forwarded your complaint to our legal counsel for review."

“I am delighted that they did the right thing,” Ricardo Mourato told Jim Hummel of The Hummel Report and Providence Journal. Mourato has announced his candidacy to challenge Ward 4 Councilman Brian J. Faria. “Now we can move on and move forward with our campaigns and show the people of East Providence how it really should be done,” added Mourato.

After the Board of Elections ruling, Joshua Pereira a candidate for the Ward 2 seat held by Anna Sousa said that, “As many reasonable people say in East Providence, we could have resolved this a long time ago by just simply starting the four-year terms this November moving forward.″

“A lot of time has been wasted,” said Rodericks. “We have problems with our water infrastructure, people are not happy with the cost of it; we want to build a new high school, we’re talking about taxes going up and everyone thinks the streets are deplorable and here we are talking about election nonsense, two years versus four years. Time and money has been wasted. Let everybody get on the ballot and let the people choose,” Rodericks told Hummel after the Board vote.

"A cloud has been lifted, and we have an opportunity to bury the hatchet, and focus on the immediate future," said Botelho after the Canvassing and State rulings mandated an election this year.

New High School Bond Proposal Gets State Nod
Dr. Ken Wagner, Rhode Island Commissioner of Education recommended and received approval from the Rhode Island Board of Education to approve the plan to build a new East Providence High School. "The Council on Elementary and Secondary Education has as one of its responsibilities reviewing and certifying the need for school construction projects to be reimbursed through the school housing aid program and the SBA Capital Fund," said Wagner. The state had lifted a moratorium on school construction. The State Board created the SBA Capital Fund, and changed the multi-stage Necessity of School Construction application to an annual process. Because of this, the Board will be asked to review and approve projects annually at the end of each fiscal year. "It is recommended that the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education approve the necessity of a school construction project in East Providence," said the Commissioner's report at the May 15, 2018 Board meeting. The near $190M bond issue will 54% reimbursement given to the city. If the Governor's statewide bond issue is passed in November, East Providence could receive as much as 74% reimbursement for the project. "I'm very optimistic that we will get to that point (74%)," said schools Superintendent Kathryn Crowley. "The Board of Education approved the monies for the bond. Now the city resolution is in the hands of the House and Senate," added Crowley. The RI House and Senate will have to approve the placing of this bond issue on the 2018 election ballot.

"This project includes the construction of a new High School for 1,600 students in the East Providence School District. The new building will replace and consolidate the existing, outdated High School and the Career Tech Center. The existing High School has more than $11M in high priority deficiencies, as well as outdated systems that are not aligned with the district’s educational program vision. The new High School will be a comprehensive facility that blends vocational and academic programs into a 21st Century learning environment," Commissioner Wagner told the Board of Education.

AG Brings “It Can Wait” Campaign to East Providence High School
People today often remark that their whole lives are on their cell phones. Unfortunately, too many lives have been lost because of the distractions of using a phone while behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. That’s the heart of the message of “It Can Wait.”

On Wednesday, that was the message that the Office of Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin, the Rhode Island State Police, and AT&T shared with students at East Providence High School as part of the “It Can Wait” campaign. The presentation highlighted the dangerous and sometimes deadly consequences of distracted driving. With the state’s “hands free” law now in effect, it’s more important than ever to educate teens and young adults against using their cell phone while driving.

“Last year, Rhode Island took a great step forward in cracking down on distracted driving with the passage of ‘hands-free,’ but passing a law is not going to make the habit go away,” said Attorney General Kilmartin. “Education is a key component to changing driver behavior and teaching young drivers the right behavior from the very start. The response by students to the It Can Wait school program has been very positive since we launched it six years ago. We have made 91 school presentations since then, often returning to the same school year after year to speak with the new batch of young drivers. We realize that it can be difficult to change behavior, but we hope that through peer influence and by hearing some of the tragic, real life situations that have resulted from distracted driving, more teens will realize that no text message, snap, tweet or Instagram is worth losing their own life, or worse, taking the life of another person. It Can Wait.”

During the school assembly, students watched the powerful documentary “The Last Text,” featuring young people whose lives have been forever impacted by distracted driving. They also signed a pledge to not use their phones while driving and to serve as ambassadors by asking others to put away their phones while in the car.

Colonel Ann C. Assumpico, Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police and Director of the Department of Public Safety, said, “Distracted driving has become a leading cause of death here in Rhode Island and across the country. The Rhode Island State Police supports the It Can Wait program as a valuable tool for educating young drivers about the dangers of distracted driving and driving home the message that a single text or cell phone call behind the wheel can have deadly consequences.”

Patricia Jacobs, president, AT&T New England, said, “Since we launched our It Can Wait program, Rhode Island has always been one of our strongest, most committed partners. We’re so proud to continue our partnership with Attorney General Kilmartin and the Rhode Island State Police to continue highlighting the dangers of distracted driving. We’ve been spreading this message for nearly a decade now, and we truly believe our collective efforts have helped make a difference. But we also understand there is more work to be done. We need to keep talking about this issue, and we need to keep reminding our friends and loved ones to put their phones down while they’re behind the wheel.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 15- to 19-year-olds in the United States. In 2015 alone, 3,477 people were killed, and 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.

Sen. Da Ponte Bill that Protects Pensions During Hospital Sales Passed Senate
In a State Senate Press Release, Sen. Daniel Da Ponte’s (D-Dist. 14, East Providence) legislation (2018-S 2467aa) that would require the general treasurer to conduct a review of any defined pension plans involved in the sale and acquisition of any hospital that are not covered by The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 was passed by the Senate.

“As we have witnessed with the orphaning and collapse of the St. Joseph Health Services pension fund, the retirees who had selflessly worked their whole lives to help others were cruelly left out in the cold after the sale of the hospital. The law regarding hospital conversions did not protect them and that is simply not fair and not right. This bill will amend the law and give the general treasurer the authority to review these pension funds and assess the health and stability of the plans before and after the proposed sale. This will protect workers and retirees so that hopefully another hospital pension collapse like St. Joseph’s never happens in the state again,” said Senator Da Ponte.

The $85 million St. Joseph pension plan covers about 2,700 current and former employees of Our Lady of Fatima and Roger Williams hospitals, but was left insolvent when contributions to it ceased following the sale of Fatima and Roger Williams to Prospect Medical Holdings in 2014.

Senator Da Ponte’s legislation states that prior to any hospital sale in Rhode Island, the general treasurer will conduct a review of any defined pension plans associated with the sale that are not covered by The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. The general treasurer will then report to the General Assembly, indicating any current or potential issues that may affect the health of the pension plans and what impact the pension plans may have on the sale of the hospital. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Rep. Amore Questions Finances of Non-Profit Compassion Centers
In a State House Press Release, Rep. Gregg Amore (D-Dist. 65, East Providence) has written to the top regulator of the state’s medical marijuana program seeking information on the finances of the three compassion centers in Rhode Island after testimony was delivered to the House Committee on Finance relating to the governor’s budget proposal (Article 17) to expand the number of compassion centers in Rhode Island from three to fifteen facilities.

Specifically, Representative Amore wants to understand how a non-profit entity would be able to give the state an additional $5 million, the amount of money expected to be generated if the expansion is implemented, so that the number of compassion centers remain at the current number of three.

The proposal was suggested by a representative of the Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center on March 20 at a House Finance Committee meeting. “Based upon testimony on the status of various non-profits who come before the House Finance Committee every year, I find it interesting that these facilities would have the capacity to produce that level of additional revenue,” wrote Representative Amore. In his letter to Norman Birenbaum of the Department of Business Regulation, Representative Amore is seeking:

  • Each of the three compassion center’s annual revenue (net and gross)
  • Annual taxes paid to the state of Rhode Island 
  • Total amount of license fees paid annually 
  • Hourly wages (average) paid to the employees of each compassion center 
  • Employee benefits included in the employee compensation package, i.e. health insurance, 401K

“At our hearing, we heard from many patient advocates who expressed concerns that too many Rhode Islanders were finding access to medical marijuana to be cost prohibitive. I understand there is a roughly 400% retail markup that the compassion centers charge to medical patients. This is compared to the wholesale cost the centers pay for product from state approved cultivators,” wrote Representative Amore. “The question now becomes, are these nonprofit facilities actually making a profit by charging patients too much for their medicine? Or would this expansion of compassion centers do damage to the patients in the medical marijuana program as stated by the existing compassion centers to the committee? Our main concern should be offering the best possible program to Rhode Island’s medical marijuana patients, whether that is with three compassion centers or fifteen. These questions need to be answered before the House Finance Committee can properly deliberate the merits of the budget article,” concluded Representative Amore.

Longtime Former City Manager Paul Lemont Dies
Paul Lemont, a 1958 graduate of East Providence High School, passed away on May 20, 2018 after an illness. Lemont, a long time former City Manager, was first hired in 1989 after a successful administrative career at the former Providence gas Company. He spent 14 years as City Manager until his contract was not renewed by a city council in 2003. After a succession of city managers were hired and fired by different city councils, Paul Lemont was brought back as an Interim Manager in 2014. Lemont returned after former manager Peter Graczykowski was fired.

Lemont told the city council that he was interested in returning to the position full time "to get this city back on track." Lemont never supported the fact that the state mandated budget commission was placed in East Providence. "In all my years we never ran a deficit government. We had surpluses and we never needed the budget commission. It was an embarrassment to have them here," Lemont told the Reporter in prior interviews. "I'm a proud Townie, I can get this city back to success like we had before. We just need good people in charge of departments," he would tell the council when he became interim. Lemont was never rehired on a permanent basis and city voters have now chosen to elect a strong Mayoral form of government. The first Mayoral election will be in November of 2018.

EP Resident Taliq Tillman to Enter Dartmouth College
The Rhode Island Foundation has announced in a Press Release that it is sending seven high school seniors off to college with scholarships honoring Roger Williams, the state’s founding father. The four-year, renewable scholarships are through the Carter Roger Williams Initiative, which was launched last year by philanthropists Letitia and the late John Carter.  “Roger Williams had the opportunity to further his education because of those around him. Thanks to the vision of the Carter family, we are able to encourage students and their parents to think big about what’s possible for their future,” said Jessica David, the Foundation’s executive vice president of strategy and community investments, who leads the project.

East Providence resident Taliq Tillman of the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center in Providence, is one of the seven award recipients. Tillman co-founded Diversity Talks and participated in the Highlander Institute Culturally Responsive Design Team and interned with the Trinity Repertory Company. Tillman plans to attend Dartmouth College. In his application, Tillman wrote about what he learned from Roger Williams' values.

“Roger Williams was extremely conscious of promoting tolerance through all of his endeavors. He took the initiative to go against a traditional system and propose ideas that were considered dangerous for the time,” he said. “From my personal experiences, I have come to understand that that same initiative, passion and determination is exactly what’s needed in order to truly change a system,” writes Tillman.

“By providing access to resources and opportunities inspired by our state’s founder and his teachings, we are promoting a sense of place and awareness for all Rhode Islanders,” said the Foundation’s David.

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