Mayor Joseph Solomon insists that the problems facing Warwick aren’t insurmountable, but he also showed on Wednesday that he isn’t averse to accepting help in solving those problems either.
He announced Wednesday that he would be bringing in Michael D’Amico, principal of D’Amico Consulting, to act as an executive assistant/consultant to his administration. The position was included in the FY2020 budget at a cost of $50,000.
“Michael brings a wealth of experience assisting municipalities, particularly in the areas of finances, contract and labor disputes and education,” Solomon said through a release. “I know, working cooperatively with me, Chief of Staff Bill DePasquale and other key members of my cabinet, Michael will be instrumental in our ongoing efforts to address issues of concern in these areas.”
During an interview on Wednesday, Solomon indicated that DePasquale was “overwhelmed” in delineating the many priorities identified in the city – things that Solomon said included ongoing arbitration with the fire department, negotiations with the school department, infrastructure needs within the city’s sewer and water authorities and maintenance of other city facilities.
“Let me put it this way, there is a lot to deal with on a daily basis,” Solomon said. “And when you come in in the morning, every day is a new adventure. When I have the opportunity to have qualified, quality help available, and they are willing to help, I take it and I go forward with it, because it’s only going to make the community better.”
According to the release, D’Amico has managed his own consulting firm for the past five years. He most recently served as a consultant to the town of East Greenwich, negotiating five labor contracts in six months that resulted in “anticipated savings of $3 million over the next five years.” The release states he was responsible for preparing both the East Greenwich school department and town budgets for FY2020.
In Coventry, D’Amico consulted and overcome a $2 million shortfall within the Coventry School District while simultaneously “reinstating key programs such as math and reading specialists, middle school sports and other clubs,” the release notes.
Further back in his history, D’Amico was director of administration to former Providence Mayor Angel Tavares, where he helped save “in excess of $150 million in collective bargaining agreements and cost control measures,” per the release. Prior to working for municipalities, D’Amico had an extensive career in the private sector.
D’Amico earned a Bachelor of Science degree in economics from the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA in finance from Villanova University. Solomon said that D’Amico has already been included in at least one city meeting to get caught up in financial details and would be active moving forward.
As mentioned above, between skyrocketing employee costs and looming city deficits, a continuing $7.7 million deficit within the school department that has threatened the very core of education in the city and at-risk infrastructure throughout the city – financial issues have framed every aspect of Solomon’s first term in office. He provided updates on some of those issues on Wednesday.
Solomon said that negotiations with the school department remain ongoing, despite an issue last week where the two sides traded press releases that indicated mediation efforts had hit a significant snag.
“We’ve been communicating,” he said. “I’ll just leave it at that.” He said that conversation had happened “less than 24 hours ago,” meaning it happened on Tuesday, and that the topics included school sports and other programs.
On the city’s FY18 audit that was due in December and has since received four extensions, now due July 23, Solomon reiterated that auditing firm BlumShapiro has the necessary documents and should be able to make that deadline. He also reiterated his belief that the audit will reveal Warwick’s financial condition as healthier than some in the city believe.
“The numbers coming in, Warwick is going to survive. We’re not looking at receivership or anything else of that nature,” he said.
When asked about his level of certainty and if it was the result of Solomon already seeing the audited numbers, he said, “On a daily basis I’m privy to what every businessman would be privy to in their own business – your income statement, expenses, revenue versus expenses and things of that nature…I’ve been keeping my finger on the pulse since I took office and there was no finance department. Really that was my being baptized by fire. I was able to put that fire out.”
He said that, while things may not necessarily be fixed overnight, he was “confident” that things are improving in the city.
“I’m confident that things – it’s never ‘okay,’ but that things are better,” he said. “I’m confident that things will get even better in the upcoming year. Let’s just say that we’ve been able to take control of the vehicle that’s going to drive us in the right direction.”
The addition of D’Amico, he said, will help move things in that direction as well.
“There are a lot of issues on the table and a lot of things in the works – a lot of important due diligence that has to be made,” he said. “I saw that he shared similar values and was very good with the numbers, which, that’s important. He’s very level headed and calm with his presentation. Having both him and Bill DePasquale before me, I saw a great team in place and it’s a team I wanted to work for the citizens of this city.”