Richard Crenca brought a cigar to work last Tuesday.
That’s not something he usually does, but the director of public works had a meeting with the mayor and he had made up his mind – after 32 years of public service it was time to retire.
He had thought about how he would bring up the topic and, with all the change that has taken place and what Joseph Solomon faces as mayor, he imagined it wouldn’t be easy.
After covering matters relating to public works, Crenca said he asked Solomon if he had time to talk about something else. The mayor said certainly, and Crenca said he felt remarkably at ease about his decision and what he was going to say.
“I had a good conversation with the mayor,” Crenca said in an interview Thursday. “He didn’t fire me and I didn’t quit.”
Crenca will retire as of August 1, which he figures will give Solomon the time to name a director and for a smooth transition.
At 66 years old with two grown children on their own and living alone, Crenca said it was time for him to leave.
Crenca’s career in public service started in 1974 after graduating from Rhode Island College at the RI Consumers Council. After about a year he left and later enrolled in a planning master’s degree program at URI. After a year, Crenca decided it was time to return to the work force.
It was 1977, Joseph Walsh was mayor and the planning department was looking for staff. Crenca applied for a job and was brought aboard as a planning technician. His first paycheck was $100. He thinks he still has the stub somewhere.
His heart is in planning, although he has held positions in building and, as he does now, the public works departments in Warwick as well as North Kingstown and Woonsocket.
“I liked planning the best,” he says. As for what he liked least, he doesn’t hesitate to name the building department.
The most hectic period of his career was the “gold rush” before the crash of the credit unions in the late ’80s. He was working in the building department, money was easy and developers were plentiful. The rush was on to cash into the housing and retail development bonanza and the building department was bombarded with proposals, many of them from less than responsible developers.
Following his stint in the building department, Crenca left Warwick in 1991 to serve as Director of Public Works in North Kingstown, a post he held for five years. He returned to planning, but working for the City of Woonsocket, where he stayed until getting a call from Mark Carruolo in 2001, then Warwick city planner, asking him to return to his hometown. It was an opportunity Crenca didn’t pass up.
As a planner and having dealt with the day-in and day-out operations of public works, Crenca has both a long-range vision for the city and an understanding of the hurdles of attaining those goals. He sees a future for the city in City Centre and the possibilities of a thriving mix of residential, office and hospitality-related development at the nexus of the airport, train station and Route 95.
“That would be such a boon for the city,” he said.
On the practical, day-by-day operation of the city, Crenca is troubled by the lack of long range plans to address issues, from the ongoing replacement of capital equipment such as sanitation trucks and heavy operating equipment of public works or reinvestment in the Mickey Stevens Sports Complex that was built in the 1970s.
“We need to have long-term ideas and we can’t put them off,” he said.
“We have trucks with holes in them,” he says of the DPW’s aging fleet. “We shouldn’t get to that. We need a plan that maintains what we have.”
What Crenca is talking about is hardly novel. As DPW director, Crenca sought to acquire an additional sanitation truck just to ensure the fleet could maintain its pickup schedule no less minimize repairs and cut overtime only to be shot down by the City Council. The council likewise rejected this winter a bid for cold patch asphalt that was needed to patch potholes.
“That’s kind of what’s frustrating,” he said, “[the city] you’ve got to find ways to address things.”
The dynamic between Scott Avedisian and the all-Democratic council with Solomon as council president where the council consistently rejected the mayor’s proposals is seen to blame, but Crenca doesn’t go there.
Reflecting on Solomon’s tenure as mayor since Avedisian left to assume the post of CEO of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, Crenca said, “I think you’ll see him be aggressive. He’ll look for innovative ways to get things done.”
Asked by what he means by “aggressive,” Crenca explains that he sees Solomon as addressing, not skirting, issues.
“Scott Avedisian got us to this point where this city is flourishing, and I think Mayor Solomon will pick up on that and take us further,” he said.
The council’s action to add $4 million to the paving budget, bringing it to a total of $5 million, Crenca views as a step in the right direction. He said the funding is a step to addressing the condition of city streets but by no means addresses all the issues. He likewise sees the $40 million bond for schools, assuming it gains voter approval in November, as important to sustain what he called a good system and a strong point to the city.
Crenca hasn’t got specific plans for retirement. He’s not planning to go back to work. He looks to be more engaged with his children: his daughter Emily, who is a professional photographer in Nashville, and his son, Andrew, who lives in Smithfield and is a teaching assistant.
“I can’t be more proud of them,” he said.
“I go into retirement feeling pretty good, proud of the job I’ve done. There are no blemishes. I did them right. I did them honestly,” he says of the jobs he’s held in municipal service.
And the cigar?
Crenca knows Solomon enjoys them, so as a thank you he gave it to him.