CENTRAL FALLS â€” What started out as a merely raucous City Council meeting on the controversial winter parking rules imposed by the receiverâ€™s office last month deteriorated into a free-for-all Monday.
Residents inside were frantic about where they are going to find places to park their cars, how safe the vehicles would be in remote lots blocks away from their homes as well as their own safety walking to and from the lots.
They were also resentful about the unilateral â€“ and, many said, high-handed -- way the new parking rules were proscribed.
The new law requires all cars be off the streets of the city between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m. from December 1 to April 1. The fine for illegal parking is $40 and repeat offenders will have their cars towed, which would add towing and storage fees to the fine.
The ban was to be enforced for the first time on Monday, but people implored Major James Mendonca, the acting police chief, to not start ticketing cars until the residentsâ€™ attempt to get the law repealed has a chance to work. Mendonca said he could make no promises to that effect and recommended that people comply with the parking ban for the time being
About 250 more people outside filled Summit Street on the side of City Hall, angry that they were not allowed to participate and calling for the meeting to be stopped and moved to the high school or some other location that would accommodate the entire crowd. As confusion reigned in the Council Chambers, the crowd on the street outside could be heard chanting â€śShut it down! Shut it down!â€ť
Although it was almost immediately clear that the meeting would have to be stopped and reconvened at another time and place, the debacle continued for more than an hour as people continued shouting about parking, Council President William Benson gaveled the council table mercilessly in a futile attempt to maintain order and at least a half dozen uniformed police officers stood posts in the Council Chamber to assure that the crowd did not get completely out of control.
Ultimately, it was determined that the council would adjourn the meeting and start it over, perhaps two weeks from now, at a time and place to be announced.
Among the things that irked the crowd the most were that Receiver Robert Flanders did not attend the meeting at all and that his chief-of-staff, Gayle Corrigan, stayed only long enough to make a brief speech, then abruptly left without hearing the residentâ€™s concerns or answering questions.
â€śHe makes the laws and he runs away?â€ť John Osko asked incredulously. â€śThe streets belong to us, not him. This is our city, it belongs to us.â€ť
Osko and other attendees made it clear that they wanted the council to force Flanders to attend the rescheduled meeting. Benson had to repeat several times that â€śThe council does not have subpoena power over the receiver. The council has NO power over the receiver. He does not invite us to his meetings. He tells us nothing.â€ť
Before she left, Corrigan told the crowd that the state Fiscal Stability Act that allowed the state to appoint a receiver for Central Falls â€śrightly or wronglyâ€ť gives the receiver the power of the mayor and the City Council. She said that Monday night was â€śthe first time â€“ bar none â€“ that I have seen such public involvement.â€ť
They complained about having to walk to their cars in the cold and dark. They complained about having to wake up their tenement neighbors to get them to move their cars if they have to get out in an emergency.
One young petite woman who said she has to park her car in the library lot asked Mendonca if she could get an escort through the city at night. Mendonca replied that the police department does not have the manpower to escort people. That led to shouts that there are enough police to issue tickets, but not provide escorts.
Many people at the hearing asserted that the ban and the $40 tickets are designed to raise revenue in the budget-crimped city, something the receiverâ€™s office has denied.
Sen. Elizabeth Crowley and Reps. James McDonald and Agostinho Silva said they would work at the state level to address the situation and to try to make sure that someone from the receiverâ€™s office or the governorâ€™s office (which appoints the receiver) attends the next meeting.
Corrigan said that the cityâ€™s public safety officials asked for the parking ban, but conceded that the process â€ścould have been better.â€ť
â€śThe receivership will not last forever,â€ť she said, â€śthe receivership will end.â€ť
Residents were having none of it, most pushed decorum aside and started shouting from their seats, usually many at one time. At one point a thoroughly exasperated Benson shout for people to â€śShut up until itâ€™s your turn.â€ť That led Councilman James Diossa to scold Benson, â€śdonâ€™t tell this public out here to shut up.
Councilman Patrick Szlastha told the crowd, â€śOur hands are tied for now, but as God is my judge, we will undoâ€ť the parking ban.
The most emotional not of the night was struck by resident Norman Dumas, who told the crowd, which went quiet for the first time all night, â€śSomeone hasnâ€™t been heard tonight, the veterans who died defending our rights. What do you think they would make of that arrogance, the way weâ€™ve been treated and our rights have been trampled on? Veterans from this city who died defending our rights. We fought to defend these rights once before, be careful.â€ť
The audience broke into applause.