EAST PROVIDENCE — Ward 3 city councilman Joe Botelho didn't mince many words during a discussion at the body's January 3 meeting encompassing both the recent voter-approved change to East Providence's form of governance and the potential for convening a charter commission.
Mr. Botelho, a supporter of the switch from a manager-council to "strong" mayor setup, challenged his counterparts on the council to follow through with the implementation of the measure while saying they themselves as a group could foster many of the other potential updates needed to be done to charter.
At the same meeting, the council unanimously approved a resolution submitted to the General Assembly seeking the state's support of the amended charter provision pertaining to the city's governmental structure.
Ward 2 councilwoman Anna Sousa said she cast her vote last week not because she supported the change — she said she voted against it during the November 2016 election — but because it was the will of the people.
Some critics have rightly noted the ballot measure did not include a recall provision, the composition of an executive branch staff, salary or term limits.
In expressing his backing of the item, Mr. Botelho said it was incumbent upon the council to see the change come to fruition, noting some 73 percent of residents voted for the measure just eight weeks earlier. He called it a "mandate," adding the switch "is not that complicated." He said the likely reason why so many residents voted in favor of the mayoral form was that "people have it with the revolving door (of city managers)" in recent years.
Said the Ward 3 rep, who previously served on the council in the late 1980s, "things have a way of not happening" when it comes to certain items passed in prior elections. Mr. Botelho used as an example the majority vote by the electorate in support of changing the length of terms from two to four years for city-wide officials back in 2012. City solicitor Greg Dias explained the reason why term lengths weren't changed was because the General Assembly failed to give its approval in a timely manner and that then Governor Lincoln Chafee did not sign it into law.
Mr. Botelho told his peers last week that he was "putting them on notice," that he was not going to allow the governance change to fall by the wayside in the way the four-year terms measure did. He said after the meeting he would put the item on every council agenda going forward until it has been put into practice.
Raising his hands in the air and gesturing to express feigned fright, Mr. Botelho said, without using specific names, there are "shadowy figures" on the periphery of city government who were against the four-year terms and who are now opposed to the mayoral switch. They believe it to be advantageous to "keep five (council) people divided" rather than leave control of the city hands of one elected official, he added.
Mr. Botelho just as emphatically expressed his opposition to the formation of a charter commission, something proposed by council president and Ward 1 representative Jim Briden.
Mr. Briden, who during his previous stint on the council from 2012-14 also raised the specter of a commission, said it would afford both elected officials and residents the chance to review and update the charter where necessary while making sure the switch to a mayoral form was done correctly. Mr. Briden, noting the last commission was seated in the early 1990s, said the commission would allow the city to "take inventory" of what is and isn't currently useful about the charter.
Again, however, Mr. Botelho balked, saying he was part of the previous commission effort and it had little impact. He said according to his reading of Rhode Island General Law section regarding municipal home rule, the council, with input from the public, could initiate any changes proposed or requested.
"We can achieve (change) in a less laborious process instead of slowing down the people's will again," Mr. Botelho added. "It's up to us. We should take the responsibility."