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Change is needed in the City of Providence: Dee Dee Witman

Election day is almost here. This election cycle promises to bring much change to the landscape of politics both nationally and locally. No one, however, seems to know exactly how much or what type of change is on its way. I generally see change as a good thing, especially when the status quo is failing as miserably as our present electorate. Forced change via the ballot box is always preferable to forced change via violence and hatred – two things that are far too prevalent in our society, and our politics, at the present time. It’s time for all of us to stand up and be heard by way of our vote.

In Providence’s Mayoral election there is a chance for the voters to cause change. Change from the same old self-centered, do-nothing approach the present Mayor has made his trademark since taking office. He’s taken countless trips abroad and throughout the country with no measurable benefits for the city or taxpayers. His priorities seem to be shaped by his personal whims – parking meters, giving meters, speed cameras, municipal ID cards and sister cities in Central and South America.

His biggest priority, however, is to establish Providence as a nationally recognized Sanctuary City. This remains his #1 priority even as the Federal Government has already withheld and threatens to continue to withhold any future federal grant money as a result of this policy. He seems to be determined to advance his own personal agenda regardless of the long term effect on the health of the City of Providence. In fact, he seems to be preparing himself for a campaign for Governor even at the expense of what’s right for the City.

Elorza is so out of touch with reality that he doesn’t even see how his actions scream that he doesn’t give a damn about the perception of impropriety in his administration. Many of his closest appointees have either left by their own choice in order to not be associated with him any longer or have resigned under a cloud. His former chief-of-staff receives a $5,000 per month salary from the same company that Elorza awarded the contract of supplying the speed cameras to Providence – that’s a clear conflict of interest! But he views it as business as usual, and that should scare us!

Mayor Elorza clearly thinks he’s above the law as mayor. His SUV has been photographed on numerous occasions parked in front of fire hydrants blocking access by the fire department. His SUV has also been booted for non-payment of parking tickets!

As for a specific example of Elorza’s mismanagement and incompetence I will give you a look at how he mishandled, and continues to mishandle, the management of the Providence Fire Department. He met with firefighters at their kitchen table regarding the ongoing running of the department and promised them that he was not going to make any drastic changes. Less than 12 hours later, however, he announced changing the staffing levels, platoon schedules, number of working hours and pay rates. He claimed this would save millions of tax dollars annually. The reality was that it cost the taxpayers more than $12 million over the course of approximately 18 months.

At that point his administration, headed by the incompetent Commissioner of Public Safety Steven Pare, desperately needed a way to stop the bleeding without losing face. The solution these two came up with continues to cost taxpayers millions of dollars in extra financial burdens via future increased payments by the pension system. In order to persuade the firefighters’ union to accept staffing and station closures they raised the number of Chiefs in the stations (not Headquarters) from 8 to 20. These are new positions at a substantial raise.

The “additional” “monthly” cost to the pension system when these individuals retire will be in the neighborhood of $18,000, and this cycle will continue to repeat itself when these Chiefs are replaced with new Chiefs. This will have long lasting and disastrous effects on our pension system.

The thing to note about these additional costs is that they won’t kick in until these members retire. This means that they won’t affect budgetary considerations until Elorza and Pare are no longer in their present positions. They are simply kicking the can down the road to future administrations without any regard for the financial well-being of the City or the system!

As an executive board member of the Providence Police & Firefighters Retirement Association (PPFRA) and a Providence pension system collector I am extremely concerned over the financial stability of the City of Providence and its (our) pension system. The same old ways of deferred payments, short cuts and one time fixes (Elorza has considered selling Providence’s Water Supply to garner a short-sighted, one-time payment) scares me and my fellow retirees. It will take new ideas and a completely new direction to right the sinking ship that is Providence.

At a special meeting of PPFRA last night Elorza and his Independent opponent for the office of Mayor of Providence, Dianne (Dee Dee) Witman, were invited to address the membership about their plans for the future of Providence, with special consideration toward their plans to stabilize our pension system. The Mayor declined.

Ms. Witman spoke to us about her love of Providence and her concern that the present administration was heading in the wrong direction for the future of Providence. She has raised a family in the city and she has absolutely no higher aspirations than to serve as Mayor. She spoke to us about her plans to reach out to the tax exempts and get them to the table to discuss tax payments to Providence similar to those by tax exempts in Boston. She stated that she is open to welcoming privately funded investors who bring plans to invest in the City without putting barriers between them and fruition of their plans.

She believes that accentuating the relatively low costs of Providence in comparison to Boston, and our proximity, is something that can successfully draw more businesses and commuters to our city. She even mentioned talking to Amtrak regarding an express commuter train between the cities to lessen the inconvenience of daily commuters. Such fresh thinking is a positive improvement over the predictable and stale actions of the present administration.

Our association (PPFRA) voted unanimously to endorse Dee Dee Witman in her candidacy for Mayor of Providence. We believe that she would serve the City and its taxpayers faithfully and show the type of integrity and leadership so desperately needed in Providence.

Until next month, stay safe…and healthy!

Tom Kenney

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the monthly commentary “The Way I See It” are Tom Kenney’s and not necessarily those of The Providence Police & Firefighters Retirement Association.

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