The bomb went off moments before the City Council Finance Committee was scheduled to consider issues relating to the Department of Public Works on Monday night as the department’s director walked out of the chambers.
Committee Chair Ed Ladouceur asked a member of the audience if they could intercept Mathew Solito and have him return to answer questions on resolutions to have the city make repairs to Lippitt Park in Riverview and install stop signs near DelGuidfice Park off Palmer Avenue, both in Ward 5 and projects Ladouceur has been pushing to complete for the past 4½ months.
Ladouceur’s envoy returned to the chamber without Solitro.
That did it. Ladouceur questioned why Solitro would leave, knowing he would be questioned as to what had delayed the projects. He said he was frustrated and had reached the “boiling point.”
By Tuesday, Ladouceur – though still simmering – had cooled off and Solitro had answers for his exit. Solitro said he had talked about both issues with the councilman and saw no need to go over ground already covered. He added that he had a prior engagement and had to leave. He said in no way did he intend for his actions to be rude.
Ladouceur wouldn’t go so far as to say he was deliberately snubbed or that this was a form of payback for not supporting the administration on the high profile Warwick Firefighters contract that gained council approval on a 5-4 vote. Ladouceur favored delaying the vote for additional study of its financial impact.
Ladouceur said he understands his is not the only ward demanding attention and that the Department of Public Works must prioritize projects. Yet given the nature of the safety concerns surrounding both park projects, he thought they should have been acted on more quickly. In addition, he listed a number of requests, from potholes on Ocean Avenue to a rotted tree stump on White Rock Road and a knocked over road sign at Warwick Neck School that had not been addressed for weeks. He doesn’t see why it should reach the point where he has to introduce a resolution to get a problem fixed, but he’s going to do that if that’s what it takes.
“I’m going to do whatever I need to do to protect my constituents. My people don’t deserve this kind of service,” he said. “I don’t want to hear stuff that we’re busy, I don’t want to wait 4½ months.”
Solitro had explanations.
The situation at Lippitt Park developed Nov. 16 when a driver plowed into a 6-by-6 protective post and tore up a bicycle rack embedded in a concrete walkway. Solitro said a DPW crew cordoned off the area with caution tape, placed a cone over the fractured frame of the bike rack and installed a Jersey barrier to prevent a vehicle from driving into the bayside park. Rightly or wrongly, Solitro acknowledges, he waited until he had a check – about $4,400 – from the driver’s insurance company to replace the post and removed the rack, cutting its metal post flush with the walk. That happened last Friday.
“I didn’t think people would be using the park to its fullest potential. It’s safe,” he said.
In an email to the Beacon, Riverview Association President Kevin Eisemann said he visited the park the day after the accident with several neighbors and swept the area of broken glass and debris. He called Ladouceur as well as the DPW.
“Well, a week went by, then a month, then several months. Every two weeks either myself or Councilman Ladouceur called for the status and we requested repairs. Nothing but broken promises and excuses. I finally reached out to Mayor Solomon last month and still nothing was done except a juggling around of highway cones. The DPW arrives, looks , and leaves. Every week it’s the same. This is now week 15. Problem is the broken guardrail, bike rack, and waste receptacle were safety hazards. Neither was removed until last Friday. It was another accident waiting to happen,” Eisemann writes.
Mayor Joseph Solomon said Wednesday he visited the park following the accident. He felt DPW had taken measures to ensure the situation was safe.
“I never get any complaints about the work not being done,” Solomon said. If anything, he said, DPW has “been proactive” in addressing the issues.
Emily Martineau, the mayor’s press secretary, who was also on the call with Solitro, pointed out that the DPW has finite resources and a schedule of projects to address across the city. She said that a review of DPW records indicate that about 90 percent of the requests for services the department receives are from constituents while the balance is from council members.
Solitro pointed out that his department is in the process of completing a major renovation of the DelGiudice Park baseball field with the installation of a drainage system, grading and loaming. He said this mild winter has allowed crews to work on projects whereas they otherwise would have been driving plows and sanding roads. The park is in the heart of Ladouceur’s ward.
“We want to beautify the area,” he said.
“I have limited resources and I want to put the best foot forward,” he said.
Ladouceur said at least one of the stop signs near DelGiudice Park went up Friday.