Apply now for new school board says Baldelli-Hunt

Apply now for new school board says Baldelli-Hunt

WOONSOCKET - Residents hoping to serve on the first appointed School Board have just five days left to submit their applications.

A busy Mayor-elect Lisa Baldelli-Hunt said this week that her top priority is appointing this new board, a task she hopes to have complete in time for the Dec. 3 inauguration.

The four-term state representative is currently soliciting applications from those who wish to serve.

According to a brand-new charter change, Baldelli-Hunt had the authority to nominate members and put her choices before the City Council for approval.

"I thought it would be good to take a different approach and allow people to apply," Baldelli-Hunt told The Breeze.

Applications for the positions are available on the city's website at www.ci.woonsocket.ri.us/ and will be accepted until Monday at 4 p.m. The new mayor said a nominating committee will begin looking at the submissions that same day.

"I thought it was the more democratic way to approach it." she said.

It's just one of many changes her tenure will rapidly bring to city government.

The weeks following a mayoral election are a tumultuous time for the supporters and administrators of an incumbent mayor who's on his way out.

As the mayor-elect transitions into her role at the helm, she'll take over the authority for hiring directors for every department in City Hall, from Pubic Works to Finance. Businesses and nonprofits that built a strong relationship with outgoing Mayor Leo Fontaine over the past six years may wonder where their projects stand.

Baldelli-Hunt has yet to announce who will stay on board as part of her new administrative team - and, in some cases, who might be looking for work outside city borders. But she has made some preferences apparent.

"I already made it clear that I'm very happy to have Chief Thomas Carey and I'm pleased to be working with him over the next three years," Baldelli-Hunt said of the police chief. "He's part of the fabric of this community."

Another top priority for the new mayor will be choosing a permanent fire chief to replace Gary Lataille, who retired from the department earlier this year. Currently, the position is being filled by Acting Fire Chief Timothy Walsh.

Other non-union, non-classified positions hired at the mayor's discretion include jobs like the executive secretary - a spot currently held by Linda Plays - and director of planning - a position held by Paulette Miller.

Finance Director Thomas Bruce was reportedly told he's made the cut this week and will continue his work for the city, but if the mayor-elect's transition team is any indication of what's to come, Public Works Director Sheila McGauvran may not. The city's former Public Works director, Michael Annarummo, is on Baldelli-Hunt's transition team.

Other members of her team include chairman Richard Lepine, the mayor-elect's former campaign manager, along with Richard Kearns, a retired state representative from Woonsocket. Developer Scott Gibbs, elementary school principal Donna Coderre, Kay's Restaurant owner and chairman of the Woonsocket Housing Authority David Lahousse, and Paul Bourget, owner and president of Bourget and Associates Inc.

"In putting this transition team together, I wanted the input and expertise of people who have first-hand knowledge of the workings of municipal government, education and the private sector and who share my commitment to making economic development a priority for Woonsocket," said Baldelli-Hunt.

During Fontaine's re-election campaign this year, supporter and friend Albert Beauparlant stood by the mayor's side, making big plans for the future of Woonsocket.

Beauparlant was one of five members nominated to the reignited Woonsocket Redevelopment Agency in January, a board given broad powers under state law to tackle city blight. Through the agency, Beauparlant brought out a long-dormant proposal for creating a satellite division of college or university in Woonsocket.

The professional real estate developer co-chaired the city's 125th anniversary Block Party with Fontaine's administrative assistant, Linda Plays, and began to advocate for creating a commuter rail station within city lines.

This week, Beauparlant told The Breeze he hopes he can continue that work with the help of the new mayor.

"I am looking forward to meeting with her, having a coffee or nice fireside chat to learn how I can assist her," he said.

Beauparlant said that the first mayor he worked with in Woonsocket was actually her uncle, Charles Baldelli.

"I've worked with a lot of mayors. Yes, I did help Leo Fontaine because he's my friend," Beauparlant said of the campaign. "But she's the mayor and I will do anything and everything in my power to assist her."

Beauparlant's term on the Redevelopment Agency extends to 2018, and if Baldelli-Hunt intends to utilize the board - one of the most powerful tools for tackling the city's blight problems provided for by state law - the two will need to build a relationship.

Not so for Economic Development Director Matthew Wojcik, who has been serving as executive director of the agency. Wojcik's term on the board is at the mayor's discretion, and while no formal action had been taken in regard to his work for the city just yet, a plan to fire the director and take over his duties was one of Baldelli-Hunt's campaign promises.

This week, Fontaine nominated a new member to the agency, Ainsley Morisseau-Cantoral of NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley. Morisseau-Cantoral could not attend Monday night's City Council meeting and confirmation of her appointment was postponed to the current council's final meeting on Dec. 2.

Information on the Redevelopment Agency's work was released less than a week before the city's primary this year, making it appear, to some, like little more than a campaign ploy. Still, the agency looks likely to live on beyond Fontaine's term.

The board has been working on several projects including the "Gateway Enhancement" plan. The group hopes to designate a stretch of land along Cumberland Hill Road, from the wastewater treatment plant to Walt's Clothing, as a redevelopment area. The designation would allow the board to focus on upgrading existing businesses along the well traveled space, while acquiring available lots for improvement and potential resale.

"My feeling is this: When you look across the river, you see children playing soccer on the old city dump that was contaminated," said Beauparlant. "When you look at our middle school, it was built on a contaminated site. In that zone, we're only looking to bring it up to a lesser standard of industrial use."

Ultimately, however, Beauparlant said that anything they do will need the support of the new mayor.

"It would need the mayor's blessing," he said. "She would have to see it as for the good of the city."

Meanwhile, Beauparlant said his new nonprofit organization, the Pothier Foundation, has been working with two developers that have shown interest in the city. The agency hopes to help such would-be Woonsocket investors by introducing them to contacts in the city and showing them the lay of the land.

Beauparlant serves as executive director of the foundation, named after Aram Pothier, the former city mayor and state governor credited with attracting many mills to Woonsocket during the turn of the century. Currently, Beauparlant is working with the board's president, Eric Cartier, and chairman, Matt Moylan, to develop a plan to work with the city's business leaders.

"Whatever way the Pothier Foundation can help businesses, that's what our goal is," he said.

As a real estate broker for 28 years with a focus on development, Beauparlant said he believes his goals tie in well with the new mayor's.

"I'm very glad that she has in fact said that her main priority will be economic development," he said. "This city- we're in deep, deep trouble. And this new mayor, when she takes office - she's an intelligent woman and she realizes that one thing she has to do is galvanize this community and force the resurgency."

Beauparlant has devised his own plan to force that resurgence via infusion of state capital and has created a wish list for legislators.

"What I'm going to propose is that this is something that has to happen almost on an immediate basis," he said. "Woonsocket, right now, is hog tied. We're probably at our lowest point. We're trying to reignite our own economy and there is no stimulation."

The list, which he calls his "Marshall Plan," includes setting aside $3.3 million in historic tax credits for Woonsocket for the next three years, alloting the city an additional $1 million in Community Development Block Grant funds and putting half of the city in a Municipal Economic Development zone. Beauparlant also wants to see a portion of the state's transportation funds allocated to Woonsocket for creation of a commuter rail station at the junction of River and Fairmount streets.

"Why not? They just did it down in Wickford and no one is using it," he said.

Beauparlant also believes the state should dedicate a portion of the $1 billion set aside for higher education to creating an adult vocational technical school and distant learning college in Woonsocket over the next three years.

"We recognize and realize that in the past six years, $55 million was taken out of our budget by the state of Rhode Island," he said. "This new mayor, she's a great person to be going into what she's going into. God help her, she's going to need all the help she can get."