WOONSOCKET – Michael Debroisse, a 32-year employee of the City of Woonsocket who previously served as superintendent of solid waste and engineering, has been appointed interim director of planning and development after the departure of the city’s latest planning director last month.
Bianca Policastro, a consultant and private-industry professional who was appointed to the position on an interim basis last April, officially left the city in the last week of December, according to Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt. Around the same time, members of the Pawtucket City Council learned Policastro had accepted a position as director of planning and redevelopment in that community for a starting salary of $82,500.
Debroisse told The Breeze this week he’s excited to begin the new position, which he officially started last Wednesday.
“This time of year, the engineering division is basically catching up on plans and inspection notes that have happened throughout the year. They thought this was a good time to go ahead and transition me into this position from superintendent,” he said.
Debroisse said he previously applied for the position before Policastro was appointed. Though he has no formal planning experience, the North Smithfield resident has spent 32 years overseeing city projects and infrastructure as a member of the Department of Public Works. As superintendent of solid waste, he oversaw the city’s trash and recycling removal services, while in his role as engineering superintendent, he oversaw projects on city property and monitored the Thundermist Hydroelectric Plant.
“To me, it’s a good fit because on the engineering side, I’ve been working with the Planning Department on many of these projects that we already have going,” he said.
Both Debroisse and Baldelli-Hunt said this week they hope to make the appointment permanent.
Debroisse will serve as the fifth planning director in a period of high turnover for the department. In 2017, the late N. David Bouley, the city’s last long-term planning director, resigned amid a battle with cancer. Since then, the city has seen a number of interim and short-term directors cycle through the position. Last September, the City Council increased the position’s salary by $5,000 to $94,122 following concerns expressed by Baldelli-Hunt that the salary was not enough to attract a quality candidate.
Responding this week to recent criticism that the most recent departure may have been a result of the mayor’s managerial style, Baldelli-Hunt said she dismisses “unfounded negativity.”
“As far as I’m concerned, I was elected to lead this city, and I’m always going to lead it in a fashion that’s in the best interest of the residents and constituents and taxpayers here,” she said.
Baldelli-Hunt said she’s excited to have Debroisse on board in the Planning Department and considers the current appointment a “good test period.”
“I feel pretty confident that he brings to the table his historical knowledge, his knowledge through all the work he’s done in engineering over the years. He’s been here 32 years, four times as long as I have,” she said.
Debroisse said he’s already begun meeting with the various groups involved in potential projects in the city. The former engineering superintendent takes the helm amid a boom in interest from developers, with several major real estate projects proposed or currently underway.
Among the projects he’ll help oversee as planning director are the redevelopment of Bernon Mills, the demolition and redevelopment of the Bonin Spinning property, an Environmental Protection Agency cleanup on Sunnyside Avenue and the redesign of Monument Square.
“I think the best one out of all of these is going to be the Worall Street and Monument Square reconstruction. I think that’s going to be the most exciting one,” he said.
Though the appointment means one less vacancy in the Planning Department, the department is not yet fully staffed. Debroisse said they still have vacancies for a code enforcement position and a grant writer.
“I feel like I have a team that’s short probably three or four positions,” Baldelli-Hunt said. “I think we really need to look at that very, very closely. It’s probably something that we should take a peek at. Especially with the (American Rescue Plan Act) funds, we can’t keep up. With everything we’re going to be spending, it’s very time consuming to write RFPs and things like that.”