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Kazarian quits economic development job

June 19, 2012

PAWTUCKET — As members of the Grebien Administration had been in the midst of discussions about ways to fund the job, Richard Kazarian resigned from his post as special economic development coordinator.
Kazarian, a noted art historian and antiques dealer who has been active in Pawtucket's redevelopment efforts of the past decade, was appointed to the $1,000 per week position by Mayor Donald Grebien last April in what was initially described as a temporary position.
The appointment had sparked some criticism, particularly coming in the wake of municipal layoffs. It also angered some members of the City Council that the job was created and Kazarian placed in the position without the City Council first being asked for approval.
However, after repeated questioning by Councilor Laurenzo Tetreault, the non-union position was later certified by the city's Personnel Board.
In recent discussions involving the proposed FY13 operating budget, the Grebien Administration had reiterated its support of the city having an economic development director and said it was looking at creative ways to fund the position, plus an administrative assistant, primarily through the quasi-city Pawtucket Business Development Corporation (PBDC). The proposed budget had asked for just $60,000 in the city's operating budget for this purpose, with an additional $180,000 that would reportedly come from the non-profit PBDC and other private funding sources going forward.
Earlier in the year, the Grebien Administration had sought a ruling from the state Ethics Commission on a plan to have Kazarian's position funded through private donations from businesses.
The Ethics Commission had nixed this particular proposal, but said the ruling did not mean that the administration couldn't explore other alternative ways of paying for the salary.
In a June 13 letter from Mayor Donald Grebien to the City Council, the mayor notified the council of Kazarian's departure. He wrote that in the challenging fiscal year ahead, “nothing could be more vital to the future well-being of our city than our continuing efforts to encourage and assist economic growth and development.” He also stated that Kazarian, acting as his “special liaison” in that role, for over a year has provided “invaluable service from helping businesses move into the city to initiating business leads and contacts, and providing the kind of creative input on behalf of the city for which he has always been known, despite the continued funding uncertainty for his position.”
As such, Grebien told that council that he was “disappointed but not surprised” when Kazarian came to him in recent weeks to say that he needed to return to his profession as an art and antiques dealer on a full-time basis and could not dedicate the kind of time — long days, nights and weekends — he had been devoting to the economic development role.
Grebien also told the council that Kazarian, at his urging, has agreed to serve as a member of the Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency, to fill the unexpired term of Andrew Pieper. The City Council is being asked to approve Kazarian's appointment to the PRA at its meeting on Wednesday.
Kazarian had returned to his native Pawtucket later in his career and had immersed himself in the city's redevelopment as an arts district. He had served as chairman of the I-95 Pawtucket River Bridge task force, overseeing the efforts to come up with a stylish new bridge design, and had also served on the Pawtucket Riverfront Commission.
Kazarian could not be reached for comment on Monday.
According to Antonio Pires, Grebien's director of administration, “We still remain committed to it (the economic development director role) but for now we will have to use existing staff and personnel, including me, Planning and Redevelopment, and perhaps even Richard Kazarian in an informal capacity.”
Pires said that Kazarian's efforts over the past year had “helped us to better define the Planning (Department) and Economic Development roles, where Planning prepares the soil, Economic Development plants the seeds and the administration's role is to make those seeds grow.”
Pires added, “Thanks to Richard's work, we have, in fact, planted some seeds with the education, arts and business communities and also begun a formal reassessment of our 'one-stop shopping' process for businesses looking to grow or come to the city.” He added that the administration is now working with a group at the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation to better align its zoning, fire safety approvals, and all other aspects of the permitting process to better fit the needs of the business community and foster economic development.
Pires further stated that Kazarian's involvement “has also taken us to a new level of awareness and to a new phase of PBDC involvement.” He added, “We're not going back to square one. We're on square 12 and we're building on that now. We can't retreat and we will continue to find innovative ways to move forward.”


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