Acting Mayor Joseph J. Solomon was thrown a curve ball Friday afternoon when City Finance Director Bruce Keiser submitted his letter of resignation.
Solomon said Monday he had talked with Keiser on Thursday about former Mayor Scott Avedisian’s $310.6 million budget and there was no hint that he (Keiser) would be leaving. The first of a series of City Council budget hearings start with the school budget next Tuesday at 5 p.m. in City Council Chambers.
While Avedisian, who will assume the role of president and CEO of the Rhode Island Transit Authority on June 1, invited Solomon to be a part of the budget process, Solomon chose to let this be Avedisian’s budget. Avedisian said he put together a “maintenance budget” that basically level funded departments other than taking into account contractual pay raises as based on agreements reached with municipal employees and police. No agreement was reached with firefighters. Avedisian said he was prepared to offer Solomon “options” to the maintenance budget.
Solomon said City Treasurer Brian Silvia and Lynne Prodger of the finance department would present the budget to the council. Furthermore, to allay any concerns over the city’s financial stability, in a press release issued Friday Solomon noted, he has taken part in the municipal budget process during his 18-year tenure on the City Council, presided over eight budgets as City Council president, and holds an accounting degree.
Asked of Keiser’s explanation for his abrupt departure, Solomon said he received a follow-up email saying he was looking to spend more time with his family and sailing.
City Planner and Chief of Staff William DePasquale doesn’t foresee insurmountable issues involving the budget.
“The budget is the budget,” he said of the line-by-line department requests. He noted the one thing lacking by not having Avedisian or Keiser to present the requests and in attendance for questioning is “the interpretation and why it is the way that it is.”
Asked about his general overall impression of the budget, Solomon identified the proposed $163.9 million school budget.
“My concern is why is there less funding this year than last,” he said.
Although, indeed, the overall school budget is $1.3 million less than the current year, the level of city funding is unchanged. The difference reflects a drop in state funding resulting from a decline in student enrollment. Solomon said he would be meeting with Superintendent Philip Thornton Monday afternoon.
As Avedisian and Thornton were in regular communication, Solomon said he assumed the superintendent was aware of the proposed budget and endorsed it. If that is the case, Solomon said he is anxious to learn how Thornton plans to run schools.
Asked if any members of the council have been called in to help with a budget analysis, Solomon said he expects the council will have questions during hearings. He expressed his confidence in their ability.
Ward 8 Councilman and former Council President Joseph Gallucci was expected to be named council president, succeeding Solomon at Monday night’s meeting.
In a statement released Friday, Solomon said, “Every year, while on the council, I spent countless hours examining the proposed budget prior to hearings in order to perform my due diligence on behalf of Warwick’s taxpayers,” Solomon said. “I am very well versed in the budgeting process and am extremely familiar with each department’s operational needs. Working with Brian, I will assist with the duties of the Finance Department, and the budget will be presented to the council and the general public in a transparent process. As always, the comments and concerns of our taxpayers will be heard. As such, this resignation will not adversely affect or hinder our ability to have a FY19 budget in place by the City Charter-mandated deadline.”
On Monday, Solomon added, “It’s going to be smooth sailing.”
Keiser has nearly 40 years of government management experience, with demonstrated expertise in oversight of municipal operations, budgeting, personnel, community planning and intergovernmental relations. He was Jamestown’s town administrator for seven years prior to retiring in August 2013.
Prior to coming to Warwick as director of administration, he was the senior planner and executive assistant to the mayor of Pawtucket. He has also served as director of local government services for the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council and as director of administrative services in South Kingstown. He was named director of finance after Ernest Zmyslinski left to become West Warwick town manager.