Council challenges Grebien on public safety director

Council challenges Grebien on public safety director

Zelazo: It’s ‘ongoing and escalating obstructionism’

PAWTUCKET – The majority of the Pawtucket City Council remains opposed to Mayor Donald Grebien’s plan to add a new public safety director for $100,000 in salary, plus benefits, saying the city doesn’t need the position.

The council last week asked its newly hired attorney, Joel Votolato, to come up with a second opinion on a legal rendering from Solicitor Frank Milos that the council doesn’t have a choice whether it funds the position.

The issue of the safety director looms over budget talks, which were set to get started on Monday and Tuesday of this week. A public hearing on Grebien’s proposed 2017-2018 budget, which is calling for an 83-cent tax increase, is set for Wednesday, May 24, at 7 p.m. in City Hall.

Council member Tim Rudd took aim at the proposal for a safety director, calling it “insulting” to new Chief of Police Tina Goncalves. Rudd said he has “full confidence” in Goncalves to do the job, and said the city doesn’t need anyone “micromanaging the first female chief.”

Other council members, including President David Moran, agreed that the position isn’t needed.

Dylan Zelazo, chief of staff to Grebien, called the comments from council members part of an ongoing effort to throw up roadblocks to progress in the city.

“Despite the ongoing and escalating obstructionism by City Council leadership, the Grebien administration remains focused on continuing the real progress that Pawtucket is currently experiencing,” he said. “From Isle Brewers Guild, to the commuter rail station, to the proposal to keep the PawSox here for another 30 years, now is truly Pawtucket’s time.”

Zelazo said it’s unfortunate that, “seemingly at every turn,” the council leadership is “reverting back to the old way of doing business to obstruct this progress for individual agendas. This is why the city was facing state takeover and large deficits in 2009-2010.”

Moran last week initiated a council vote on having Votolato give an opinion whether the council has authority to stop the hiring of a new safety director by not funding it.

Moran this week said he completely disagrees with the assertion from Zelazo that the council is being obstructionist by asking for a review of the solicitor’s opinion on the funding for the safety director.

“We are doing the responsible thing as a City Council and serving the public as we were voted in to do,” he said. “Just because we have a different opinion on issues does not mean we are ‘obstructionists.’ ”

The move by the council “is just part of the normal checks and balance system that is supposed to be in place within city government between the executive and legislative branches,” added Moran.

Pawtucket residents “overwhelmingly supported the council in hiring their own legal counsel with the approval of the charter question, and these are the same voters who re-elected the mayor as well,” said Moran. “There should be no beef about this at all and just move and run city government as you were elected to do.”

The majority of the council has not been sold yet on the need for a safety director and until that happens, “we will have our own counsel review the solicitor’s legal opinion on the funding of the position and take it from there,” said Moran.

Zelazo said he expects the council’s next move will be to try and cut the safety director out of the mayor’s budget, and then say that they are “saving money.” That would not only be a violation of the city’s charter, but even if the council was within its rights to take such action, it would also force the administration to look at re-filling the third major position in the police department, achieving no savings, said Zelazo.

“More of the same is not enough,” he said. “We need to move forward and improve these services for the residents.”

The mayor remains focused on public safety, adding $1 million to departments this year, said Zelazo, including new police and firefighters and new equipment.

With public safety departments featuring more than 300 employees and $50 million in spending, more than half of the city’s operating budget, the $100,000 salary the director would earn represents a fraction of what is being spent overall, said Zelazo. The position was fully funded through a move to a two-major model, he said, and will absorb administrative leadership for all units of public safety, allowing the professionals in those departments “to focus on the functions they do best.”

A public safety director search committee interviewed five candidates and will soon make recommendations to the mayor, said Zelazo. Grebien’s goal is to fill the position soon.

“Nothing has occurred to change the clear need to move to a full-time public safety director,” he said. “The obstructionism of council leadership will hopefully end and is certainly not a reason to put public safety on the back burner.”

Council leaders went so far as to hire an attorney, Votolato, “who is suing the city, has clear conflicts of interest, and has no solicitor experience, to offer an opinion counter” to the opinion rendered by Milos, said Zelazo.

“Said attorney comes from a law firm that has been perpetrating a personal and political vendetta against the mayor for over a year now due to the termination of the son of the firm’s lead attorney by the city,” he said.

For the council to deny that Votolato’s hiring is a “political attack on the mayor is nothing short of a lie,” said Zelazo.

Moran said the council recently found out through the media that the search for a new safety director was down to five finalists, but the council never saw a press release and was never contacted directly with that news, he said.

“Again, I always go to consistent and constant communication being the key to a successful relationship between both branches of city government and at least as it pertains to this issue, this has been lacking and this most recent example just supports my point,” he said.

Asked about Zelazo’s comment about the council going back to the “old way” of doing business, Moran said he doesn’t know what Zelazo means.

“In my opinion, there are no old or new ways of doing things, but just running city government the way it was intended to be run,” he said. “I feel strongly that the City Council is doing this and living up to its end of the bargain.”

Comments

Good for Moran and Rudd for their statements, totally agree that the Mayor will continue to micromanage as he's been doing. Agree that the new Police Chief is totally capable to assume her duties without anyone looking over her shoulder. Give her the opportunity to shine following two great Chiefs: Chief Kelley and Chief King. Good luck Tina
Pawtucket doesn't need a Public Safety Director. Unfortunately Grebien probably will get his way, I Just read that he hired a new Director of Commerce. What a waste of taxpayer's money.

I think the City Council is a big waste of time. The only thing they ever do is complaint about things constantly and never get anything accomplished. When they run for office, they allows put down "I stand on my record". What record? What have they done for this city? NOTHING!!! Quit complaining and concentrate on things that will help the city. What have they done to move this city forward and bring businesses and jobs? Again, NOTHING!!! Now we have another tax increase with nothing to show for it. At least Don G is getting things done and swimming against their tide.