Providence legislators take questions on a range of subjects at WBNA Town Hall

The West Broadway Neighborhood Association (WBNA)’s “4th Annual Conversation With Our Elected Officials” followed a town hall format, concentrating on questions from constituents. Attending were Senator Paul Jabour (District 5), Senator Harold Metts (District 6), Representative John Lombardi (District 8), Representative Anastasia Williams (District 9) and Providence City Councilor Bryan Principe (Ward 13).

Senator Ana Quezada (District 2) and Providence City Councilor Mary Kay Harris were expected but did not attend.

Questions were wide-ranging. Constituents asked about the state representatives and senators about their stance on reproductive rights ( which I covered in a previous piece here) and immigration, while City Councilor Principe fielded tough questions on the Community Safety Act (CSA) and divesting the city from fossil fuels.

What I did in the videos below is edit the responses of those on stage together around the subject of the questions being asked, a different approach to what I usually do.

City Councilor Bryan Principe fielded the first question, about the Community Safety Act. Though he recognized the need for communities to have their concerns about policing met, Principe stopped short of fully supporting the CSA, saying ” I am ver supportive of the matters that the [CSA] is trying to address and that is codifying accountability in the police force and introducing a discussion and trying to trying to narrow if not eliminate the gaps between the expectation of the community and the way in which the police engage with the community.”

As Principe’s answer started to wander off into the process the CSA is undergoing in the City Council, the moderator brought him back to the original question, ‘Do you have a position the CSA?

“I am very supportive of the concepts that are introduced- that are written in the Community Safety Act,” said Principe.

A full discussion of the legislator’s reactions to a question about reproductive rights can be read here.

Several weeks ago Providence City Councilor Seth Yurdin introduced a resolution calling for the city’s divestment from banks funding the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Since then ordinance was introduced it has been stuck in the Ordinance Committee, chaired by Councilor Terrence Hassett and vice-chaired by Principe. Despite promises to schedule the ordinance for consideration by Hassett, two ordinance committee meetings have passed without the resolution being heard. As he had answered the question about the CSA earlier, once more Principe seemed to answer the question without offering his full support for the ordinance.

“I support having that resolution come and get a full and proper vetting through first the committee and then the council, so, one of the frustrating things about the position [of city councilor] that I felt when I was outside and I feel when I’m inside is that, you know, things do take time. So I don’t think there’s anything that’s blocking the consideration and full vetting of resolution that was introduced by [Councilor] Yurdin.”

“So why hasn’t it been scheduled?” countered the person asking the question.

“There’s nothing saying that it won’t be scheduled,” said Principe. When reminded that there is an Ordinance Committee scheduled for the next day, Principe fell back on the excuse that the Open Meetings Act prohibits discussions of items not on the agenda, which is again, an evasive answer. The question was why wasn’t the item placed on the agenda as promised.

When asked what concerned residents might need to do to get the ordinance onto the agenda for consideration at some future date, Principe seemed o express doubts about the power of city residents to influence the decisions of the City Council.

“Giving your opinion on it will not necessarily make it come onto the agenda any faster or slower although it doesn’t hurt, in general, to definitely let your opinion be known on how you feel about it,” said Principe.

The question of H5093, which would effectively deputize state and municipal police officers as ICE agents for the purposes of detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants, was introduced by some “very hardcore representatives,” said Representative Lombardi, “and I don’t really see the support for that [bill]. I am certainly not supporting that bill and I think the Providence delegation is probably not supporting that bill. Unless there’s a companion bill on the Senate side, I don’t think it will see the light of day.”

“Though the bill is harsh and may not see the light of day,” said Representative Williams, “it’s still entitled to have a hearing and individuals ho are concerned about it should come and express their feelings on it.”

Senator Metts wisely pointed out that there were other bills of interest to those in the immigrant and undocumented community, including a bill to grant licenses to all capable drivers regardless of immigration status and a bill that Metts introduced that would prevent landlords from inquiring about the immigration status of potential renters.

Now that a compromise plan for the 6-10 Connector has been agreed upon, residents are girding themselves for the years of construction the project entails. Coordinating with a neighborhood review board to deal with concerns about noise, pollution and traffic may need the help of legislators. Senator Jabour took that question, as he has been involved with the 6-10 Connector redesign process.

“I think the community will be heard on this issue,” said Jabour. Jabour said that the plan adopted came about because of community involvement, and said that he feels the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) has not done its job, despite an enormous budget.

Representative Williams is concerned that different community groups are having different meetings. “It’s not a collaboration with all the groups,” said Williams. There are three groups working o this issue, to Williams’ knowledge, “so if they could get together, that would b better.”

Th most contentious part of the evening came when Representative Williams was asked what is being done to save the John Hope Settlement House. Williams said there will be a community meeting to determine all that has occurred at John Hope since she was involved back to Peter Lee, a previous director. Williams said that the lack of information provided to the public and to parents who use John Hope for day care services is due to the DCYF not acting on a “logical schedule.” The board of John Hope was caught as off guard as the public, maintained Williams. DCYF is “reactive, rather than proactive,” said Williams.

Community activist Lisa Scorpio followed up on John Hope, listing a number of grants and public money that John Hope has lost under Williams’ direction. This happened under Williams, not Peter Lee, maintained Scorpio.

“Why don’t you step down?” asked Scorpio, “because John Hope is no going to be sustainable just on day care money. And because we lost all this grant money the writing is on the wall. Why don’t you step down so somebody else can get in? Because as long as you’re part of John Hope, they’re not getting a dime.”

“And your question?” asked Williams.

“Why don’t you step down so John Hope can get back on the right track?” repeated Scorpio.

Williams disputed Scorpio’s figures on grants lost. The grants lost, said Williams, were requested under her leadership of John Hope. “All of the defaults you mentioned were under the leadership of Peter Lee,” said Williams. “We inherited just about everything you mentioned,”

“All of the defaults you mentioned were under the leadership of Peter Lee,” said Williams. “We inherited just about everything you mentioned.”

There will be a meeting in April, and Williams invited everyone present to come. The problems at John Hope, Williams maintains, have nothing to do with her leadership. These were all problems he inherited.

“Even if it’s not your fault,” said Scorpio, “Everything points to you!”

There was talk about the trash in the streets in the Weest Broadway neighborhood.

A more reflective question asking “Why do you serve?”

A question about noise ordinances in the city.

What is the state’s role in supporting Providence?

A general question about drugs, guns, kids and crime.

And, finally, a plug for RI Future!

Representative Anastasia Williams (District 9)
Providence City Councilor Bryan Principe (Ward 13)
Senator Harold Metts (District 6)
Senator Paul Jabour (District 5)
Representative John Lombardi (District 8)
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About Steve Ahlquist 44 Articles
Steve Ahlquist is an award-winning journalist, writer, artist and founding member of the Humanists of Rhode Island, a non-profit group dedicated to reason, compassion, optimism, courage and action. The views expressed are his own and not necessarily those of any organization of which he is a member. His photos and video are usable under the Creative Commons license. Free to share with credit. "We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” - Elie Weisel “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu "There comes a time when neutrality and laying low become dishonorable. If you’re not in revolt, you’re in cahoots. When this period and your name are mentioned, decades hence, your grandkids will look away in shame." - David Brooks

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