EAST PROVIDENCE — The firing last week of City Manager Peter Graczykowski has prompted a renewed call for the city to consider switching to an elected mayor form of government, a proposal the sitting City Council wants to open up for debate at its next meeting on Nov. 19.
Part of that debate will be whether or not the council should put a strong mayor form of government question on the ballot next year.
The proposal to change East Providence’s current city manager/city council form of government to a strong mayor/city council form of government was introduced at the council’s meeting last week by resident Sandy Barone of 12 Weeden Ave., who says the time has come for the council to let voters decide if East Providence, a city of 50,000 people, should have an elected mayor form of government like Providence, North Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls, Cranston, Warwick, Newport, Cumberland and Woonsocket.
Barone is specifically asking the council to put the proposal to voters as a ballot question next year. If approved, the city’s first-ever mayoral election would take place in November 2016.
“I’m asking the City Council to put this on the ballot and let the people decide in 2014 what kind of government they want in 2016,” Barone told the council last Tuesday.
Barone addressed the council the same night the panel voted 4-1 to adopt a resolution introduced by Councilman Helder J. Cunha to remove Graczykowski from office immediately and without cause.
Both Graczykowski’s engagement letter and city bylaws allow the city manager to be removed from office a year after his hire without cause. Graczykowski, who was appointed city manager in September 2011, did not have a contract with the city and was considered an employee at will who could be let go by a simple majority vote of the current council.
Voting in favor of terminating Graczykowski that night were Cunha and councilors James A. Briden, Thomas A. Rose Jr. and Tracy A. Capobianco. Casting the dissenting vote was Councilwoman Christine A. Rossi.
It’s been a bumpy year for Graczykowski, who came under fire for putting Police Chief Joseph Tavares on administrative leave back in the spring. Three weeks ago, Tavares filed a complaint against the city, citing a hostile work environment. More recently, Graczykowski was criticized for including a provision in the fiscal year 2013-14 budget draft to give himself and his top aides five-figure raises. The council voted against the measure, instead approving 2 percent Cost of Living Adjustments for all non-union city personnel.
With Graczykowski gone, the council has named City Solicitor Tim Chapman to manage the city until an acting manager is named. At a special meeting to be held Friday, the council will consider four potential candidates for acting manager, including City Finance Director Malcolm Moore, current state-appointed Municipal Finance Adviser Paul Luba, former East Providence City Manager Paul Lemont and former Westerly Town Manager Steven Hartford.
At the council’s meeting last week, Barone pointed out that as few as three members of the City Council can appoint a city manager, while an elected mayor needs the majority of almost 50,000 voters.
“This is not an attack on our present City Council,” she said. “Many of them are dedicated, hard-working people, and I know that they care about our city. The problem is that our current form of government disenfranchises people and gives the voters of East Providence very little say in their own government.”
“Unlike Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian - who keep getting re-elected because the people believe they are doing a great job - we go through city managers like so much popcorn,” Barone added. “We need a real leader. I can’t promise a mayor will fix everything. I’m just saying that what we’ve had up to this point has not worked.”
In response to Barone’s request to put a referendum on East Providence’s form of government on the ballot next year, Councilman Rose, who said he personally believes the time has come for the people to decide the matter at the polls, suggested that the council instruct Chapman to review the proposal as the first-step towards that goal.
Briden, however, suggested that the council not take any action until its meeting on Nov. 19, at which time the council can reopen the matter for discussion as an item on the agenda and then solicit additional input from the general public.
“These are all legitimate questions, but from a public debate standpoint, if we have this down for a next meeting, other members of the public can weigh in and we can make a more informed decision,” he said.
(Follow Joseph Fitzgerald on Twitter @jofitz7)