Council president decries City Hall communications
City Council President Joseph Solomon took the opportunity during the first council meeting of the 2018 calendar year to levy criticism at what he perceived to be a “lack of respect” from other branches of the city government, although he did not specifically name any group or person in particular.
“One thing that I find very upsetting is that the fact that the legislative branch of government sometimes is not included in a lot of things,” he said at the opening of the regular business meeting. “We find out a lot of things by reading about it in the local paper that comes out twice a week, or maybe on the news or in the Journal.”
Solomon first mentioned how the council wasn’t apparently alerted to attend a meeting that was occurring about preparations for Winter Storm Grayson at 3 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon until 3:19 p.m.
“That’s disturbing. That’s ignorance,” he said. “That’s lack of respect to the legislative body.”
Solomon next brought up how the council has received amendments to items on the council docket that are announced shortly before meetings commence, as happened on Wednesday evening with an amendment to an agenda item concerning the Department of Environmental Management – which he took issue with.
“Do they think we’re going to rubber stamp these things? I think not,” he said. “This is not a rubber stamp council, I am not a rubber stamp council president and I will not take it and I will not tolerate it.”
Solomon criticized an extension given by the city to submit its annual audit financial report and management letter to the auditor general for FY18.
“This is a replay. Last year there was a delay in our order,” he said. “We get criticized because we don’t buy this, or we don’t spend this. Or we’re careful about scrutinizing this expenditure or that expenditure. There’s a reason for that. We don’t know where we stand.”
“We’ve been criticized as being obstructionist, we’ve been criticized as putting people in a dangerous way because we don’t have a brand new vehicle…and we have to keep up with the standards,” he continued. "How can we keep up with the standards when we can’t even give our auditors the information to complete their final auditor report with the auditor general – that’s a state law that we ask for exception from, and it’s not the first year that this has happened.”
Solomon also took issue with what he believes to be a serious communication problem within City Hall.
“I don’t think that before a director answers my question he should have to run it by someone else for permission to answer my question,” he said. “I’m an elected representative by the people. You’re elected representatives of the people. That’s not the way government operates.”
Later in the meeting, in an exchange with Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur, Solomon appeared to have discovered that tax assessor Christopher Celeste had resigned following a hiring dispute during the Wednesday night meeting, despite that resignation happening the prior week.
“The chief of staff did come to the podium at my request and he informed us that we no longer have a tax assessor, and we do not have a deputy tax assessor,” Ladouceur said, following Solomon asking if there were any tax abatements to be brought before the council during the meeting.
“Did he pass away?” Solomon asked. “Who’s driving the bus?”
“Right now, there is no tax assessor and no deputy tax assessor,” Ladouceur replied.
“That’s nice. That’s nice,” Solomon answered. “So there’s nobody driving the bus?”
“There’s nobody driving that bus,” Ladouceur said.
Following this, Solomon directly stated he never received communication from Mayor Scott Avedisian about Celeste’s departure.
“I think it’s incumbent upon us as the legislative branch to be aware of that and know that since, believe it or not this is not an oligarchy, this is a democracy and we’re supposed to all be working for the constituents of this city together,” he said. “I never received an email from the mayor or communications from the mayor that the assessor was gone.”
Finally, Solomon referenced a letter that was sent by Superintendent of Warwick Public Schools Philip Thornton on Dec. 7 which seemed to indicate that Thornton had “worked tirelessly to get on the December City Council agendas without any success” in order to ask for money to be released so that the school department could pay salary increases owed to teachers, per their new collective bargaining agreement.
Solomon said, and docket records also show, that the school department had requested to appear before the council in January to discuss the transfer of funds.
“I would like to think that there were certain misstatements made to the press by public figures,” Solomon said. “I would rather think that than think that people were being disingenuous purposely not stating the truth…I would surely be very disappointed if it was an intentional lie to shed negative light on the city council. I don’t think people could be that bad.”
It should be noted that the letter sent by Thornton was not actually sent to the press, though it wound up in the hands of various news outlets regardless.
Mayor Avedisian’s Chief of Staff, Ray Studley, issued the following statement on Monday morning in response to Solomon’s comments.
“Regarding the communication between the executive branch and legislative branch of city government—we couldn’t agree more,” the statement reads. “There is sometimes a breakdown or lack of open dialogue between parties. This is an ongoing obstacle that the Mayor and his executive staff are cognizant of, and as such, continually strive to eliminate. As with anything, there is always room for improvement, and we are willing and hopeful both sides are able to come together and work in the best interest of our constituents.”
In a follow-up interview on Monday, Solomon said that his statements made during the meeting were the result of building frustrations mostly stemming from a lack of proper communication within City Hall. He said that he has seen notable improvements in the flow of dialogue since he spoke his mind.
“I’m glad I stated what I stated because I think it has resulted in better communication since that,” Solomon said. “Though I hate to get so excited about certain things, I can only see positive improvements as we go forward, and that’s what I’m hoping for.”