Joseph Solomon got a lift to work Wednesday from his son, Joseph Solomon Jr. That was a good thing, because not until he got to City Hall did he get the keys to the mayor’s car.
Solomon, who assumed the role of acting mayor Wednesday, was on the job by 7:30 a.m. He found stark surroundings, the walls stripped of plaques, paintings and personal belonging such as a framed jersey of Cal Ripken Jr. It was a fresh beginning.
Although he didn’t have a transition team, Solomon didn’t waste time in naming City Planner William DePasquale as his chief of staff. From Avedisian’s staff, he has kept Courtney Marciano in the role of public information officer and brought in Beverley Hall from the City Clerk’s office in the role of receptionist.
Solomon made the announcements joined by DePasquale, Marciano and Hall as well as council members Timothy Howe, Ward 3, Steve McAllister, Ward 7, and Steve Merolla, Ward 9. He referred to those around the table as part of his “team.”
There will be more changes, but nothing of a wholesale nature.
“Anyone doing their job remains doing their job,” he said. “If they are not doing their job then we have a problem.”
As City Council president, Solomon became acting mayor with Avedisian’s resignation to become the president and CEO of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority. Solomon has announced he will be a candidate for mayor in November.
Although Solomon offered no plan to replace department directors, there is a vacancy with the recent retirement of Fire Chief James McLaughlin. Assistant Chief Marcel Fontenault is acting chief, and Solomon said he sees no immediacy to naming a chief, even though Avedisian had not been able to reach a contract agreement with the firefighters, which raises issues with the budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The city budget is foremost in Solomon’s concerns.
On Tuesday Avedisian, as mayor, forwarded a $310.6 million budget to the City Council, an increase of $2.4 million in spending. It is the first no tax increase budget Avedisian proposed in his 18 years as mayor. To make it balance, Avedisian basically level-funded departments while drawing down $3.8 million from city reserves.
In apparent acknowledgement that Solomon chose not to be involved in the budget process, preferring him to submit a budget, Avedisian writes in his budget message, “It is incredibly difficult to outline and determine a set of priorities for which the new administration to govern.”
Avedisian goes on to say this budget process is unlike any other and his budget is a “preservation budget.” He makes it clear he would not speculate on whether his budget will remain intact, “as it is difficult to assess the priorities of the incoming administration.”
Solomon could not say at this time whether a no tax increase budget is possible. Likewise, he was not prepared to speak on whether he might cut or increase allocations made by the mayor.
Specifically on the level funding of schools – the School Committee approved a budget request for an additional $8 million in city funding – Solomon pointed out that Avedisian and Superintendent Philip Thornton have a good relationship and he believes the level funding of schools was not made in a vacuum. Solomon said he intends to meet with Thornton and Anthony Ferrucci, director of school finances.
DePasquale, who served a stint as chief of staff for Avedisian, will hold both the position of city planner and chief of staff.
“I am humbled by [Solomon’s] support for my 29 years of service,” he said.
DePasquale said he looks forward to help Solomon build off the successes of the Avedisian administration while addressing issues concerning the city’s infrastructure including roads, the City Hall Annex that had to be relocated to the former Greene School after a burst water pipe and conditions of city schools.
Solomon said he looks to getting “back to basics of each ward.”
That resonated with McAllister, who pointed out that within the past 24 hours a Department of Public Works crew had stripped a crosswalk on Long Street.
Asked if he knew the Warwick Veterans Council is not planning to host a Memorial Day parade, the junior Solomon answered before his father. He said while there won’t be a parade, there would be an observance. His father assured there would be a parade next year.
Referring to Avedisian’s budget message that highlights achievements of his administration and thanks those who worked with him, Merolla said, “I have never seen a budget address with no rationale for schools.”
Solomon, how has served on the City Council for 18 years, said he would seek to do “what’s fair and equitable for everybody.” He vowed his administration would be transparent and there would be open lines of communication. He used the word “compromise” in arriving at agreements.
“I plan on reaching every department; I have a good feeling about things,” Solomon said.
Soon afterward Solomon, accompanied by his son and McAllister, was walking through City Hall offices greeting employees they knew and making introductions to those they were meeting for the first time.
As Solomon turned to leave the finance department, he urged employees to bring their ideas and concerns to him.
“My door is open,” he said.