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Friday, July 16, 2010

Council Approves Local Questions for November Ballot

Proposed changes to the city charter must be approved by voters 

Charter changes proposed by Majority Leader Terrence M. Hassett (Ward 12) were approved by the City Council on Thursday, July 15, 2010. The questions will appear on the November ballot for consideration by Providence voters. According to Hassett, the proposals to amend the Providence Home Rule Charter would change the membership of the Board of Contract and Supply—the board that oversees contacts and purchases—and refine the mayor’s veto power in certain circumstances.  

Under the proposal, the size of the Board of Contract and Supply would be reduced, from 12 members to nine. “The membership of the Board will consist solely of appointed and elected City officials that have direct jurisdiction and/or responsibility over finances, property, and/or purchasing,” Hassett explained. “To that end, the Council is recommending the removal of the water supply board chairperson, the president of the school board, the commissioner of public safety, and the director of public works.” All other members— including the mayor, council president, finance director, city controller, public property director, and chairpersons of the council’s finance and public property committees—would remain, and the chairperson of the council’s public works would be added as a new member.
 
Hassett said that, “The purpose of the membership change is to ensure that members are those who have responsibility for and an understanding of the complexities and realities of the overall City finances, not just departmental budgets.” He continued, “The Council feels strongly that the Board of Contract and Supply must shift away from representing the perspective of individual departments, such as schools, water supply, public safety, et cetera, and make decisions from the perspective of citywide fiscal responsibility.” The councilman noted that the there is an urgency for the City to contain costs, and to uphold the legitimacy of the competitive bidding process. “The line in the sand for City expenditures is the Board of Contact and Supply. If the City doesn’t reduce spending now, we will be unable to balance the City budget in coming years,” stated Hassett.

The second proposed charter change addresses what Hassett describes as “an infringement on the separation of powers” in city government. The charter allows the Council to hire and set the salaries for legal counsel, accountants, engineers, and other experts, but such action requires a super-majority, or two-thirds vote of the entire Council. The proposed change would disallow the mayor to veto such action. “To override a mayoral veto takes two-thirds vote of the entire Council,” Hassett said. “In order to hire experts, the Council must meet a two-thirds threshold. Therefore, in this specific case, a veto is nonsensical, undermines the Council’s legislative powers as provided in the charter, and unnecessarily delays the Council’s action.”
 
The questions will appear on the November 2nd election ballot.