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State of the City

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Mayor outlines plans for city

Mayor David N. Cicilline's State of the City address tomorrow night will focus on neighborhoods and growth beyond downtown.

BY GINA MACRIS Journal Staff Writer | February 8, 2005

PROVIDENCE -- Mayor David N. Cicilline is expected to unveil plans for making Providence a better place to live when he gives his second State of the City address tomorrow at 7 p.m. in the rotunda of the Rhode Island Convention Center.

For the past year, Cicilline said yesterday, he has strived to create an open, honest and efficient city government that will lay the foundation for economic development in the future, downtown and in the neighborhoods.

Cicilline said his administration is transforming Providence into the "jewel of the Northeast."

Cicilline will announce strategies for strengthening the city's 25 neighborhoods and talk about economic synergy reaching far beyond downtown.

During the last year, he has won significant concessions in what he calls historic contracts with teachers and city workers. However, the city has yet to see a settlement with firefighters, who have been working without a contract for 3 1/2 years, or with police officers. The police contract expired last summer.

In the settlements so far, teachers and municipal employees have agreed for the first time to pay part of their health insurance premiums, as well as higher co-payments for health services.

Another first requires teachers to attend a minimum of 30 hours of professional development during the current school year. The number of hours will increase to 36 in the second and third years of the contract.

The contract with municipal workers gives the Cicilline administration increased management flexibility in running the city.

The biggest immediate hurdle Cicilline faces is adequate funding of the city schools, which face a deficit projected at an estimated $20 million to $24 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

For the second year, Cicilline and others are expected to push the General Assembly to enact a bill calling for a referendum on an amendment to the state Constitution that would require equitable financing of public education.

Even if the bill passes and the Constitution is amended, the problem would not be solved in time for the next budget cycle.

From The Providence Journal

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Cicilline: Integrity is back at City Hall

Few city employees turn out to hear the mayor's annual policy speech, as firefighters picket outside.

BY GREGORY SMITH Journal Staff Writer | February 10, 2005

PROVIDENCE -- Presenting himself as the virtuous helmsman of a reform-minded administration, Mayor David N. Cicilline declared in a major address last night that accountability, transparent governance and fiscal integrity are bringing progress to Providence.

Virtue is more than its own reward, he said in effect in his second annual State of the City address, at the Rhode Island Convention Center.

With the city having adopted those three characteristics, he said, residents already are "seeing the fruits of restored trust" in their government: fresh investment interest by businesspeople; the achievement of money-saving labor agreements with the Providence Teachers Union and the Laborers' International Union of North America; and the landing of $6 million in grants for afterschool programs.

"They saw potential," Cicilline said, referring to investors, "but they also saw potential shenanigans" when he first took office.

Those investors, he said, included GTECH, which is building its world headquarters in Capital Center as part of a lucrative lottery deal with the state; and Afferent Corp., a biomedical company that has set up shop in downtown.

Cicilline took office amid the wreckage of Operation Plunder Dome, the federal investigation of municipal corruption that cost former Mayor Vincent A. Cianci Jr. his post. Cicilline has proposed to replace the city's formal standards of conduct with a more stringent code of ethics, and to hire a municipal integrity officer.

Cianci was forced to step down in September 2002, after being convicted of racketeering conspiracy. Cicilline was inaugurated in January 2003.

"Two years ago you elected me to reform a city government that had lost its way, and to make it worthy of you again," Cicilline said. "Girder by girder, rivet by rivet, we have constructed a new foundation on which Providence's future can grow."

As Cicilline spun out his carefully crafted rhetoric of rectitude, about 150 city firefighters picketing outside took a whack at his image. They said the mayor had reneged on three major promises he made to them when he was running for election.

He promised in writing to settle their labor contract within 30 days of taking office, to add rescue trucks and to support the repeal of the municipal residency law.

"For a government that's premised on integrity, I think that he needs to show integrity and keep those promises that he made," said Paul A. Doughty, president of the firefighters union.

One additional rescue vehicle has been put into operation as an experiment. However, Cicilline reversed course on the residency law and now vows to enforce it. Only the voters can remove the law, he points out.

As for the lack of a quick resolution of the labor dispute with firefighters, he said after the speech that he cannot set the terms by himself.

Cicilline said the firefighters are smoldering because he insists that they share the cost of their health insurance, as other city unions have agreed to do.

For more than 3 1/2 years, firefighters have been working under the terms of an expired contract. They have not received an across-the-board pay raise in that time.

The firefighters' demonstration appeared to take a toll on Cicilline's big night. As he did last year, the mayor gave a closed-door preview speech to which thousands of city employees were invited.

Last year, about 150 people attended the employees-only speech. Last night, about 50 nonunion staffers came; few rank-and-file employees were there.

Cicilline said he was "not disappointed at all," and that the preview speech is only meant to be a courtesy to the employees who are partners in the work of his administration.

About 200 were in the audience for the public speech, including a number of the managers who heard the preview. Conspicuous by their absence were City Council members; only 3 of the 15 members apparently attended.

The speech was a mostly upbeat account that touched only briefly on two of Cicilline's great concerns: the perils of reduced federal aid and the state's failure to create a fair formula for distributing aid to local schools.

He said two recent studies show that Providence schools make a dollar stretch farther than other urban school districts in New England. That is due in part, he said, to the fact that the school system is led by a lean central office.

Cicilline spoke in generalities about new programs for small-business loans, homebuying assistance and tax incentives for economic development in depressed areas. For example, he unveiled CommerceDirect, a small-business loan program in which loans of up to $25,000 will be made available with a minimum of red tape.

Providence has had such programs for years, and it was not immediately clear how the mayor's is different.

One clear initiative, however, was a proposal to have the state pick up the whole cost of maintaining certain streets in Providence. The state pays a greater share of the cost of maintaining comparable streets in the suburbs, he charged, and he is having legislation introduced at the State House to address the inequity.

He also touted accomplishments, such as an across-the-board improvement in public school students' test scores, back-to-back years of reduced crime and the modernization of government processes.

Two of his listeners gave the mayor good marks.

East Sider William Touret called the speech "very articulate and inspiring." But he said the ambiguity of Cicilline's remarks about economic development in neighborhoods left him wary.

Touret is among a group of residents who are afraid that Cicilline is so eager for taxable development that he will allow massive building projects that harm the quality of life in residential neighborhoods.

Andrew E. Galli, campaign coordinator for the Fund for Community Progress and a former State House aide, said the speech was "well delivered" and accurately reported the city's advances.

From The Providence Journal

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