WARWICK, RI — Sean Henry, one of two Independent candidates for the Ward 9 Warwick City Council race, aims to bring government experience to work solving Warwick’s problems.
Warwick Post.com emailed the same questions to each Ward 9 candidate last week and gave them until Monday, Oct. 26, to respond. Each was asked to acknowledge receipt of the emailed questions, and their intent to answer them.
Henry replied on Oct. 20 to acknowledge receipt of the questionnaire and returned his answers on Oct. 26. Following are his answers, printed verbatim:
1) During the May 27 budget hearing, Mayor Solomon failed to answer or to pledge to answer several questions posed by citizens and Council members, as reported in the Warwick Post article: Warwick Budget Hearing Questions Unanswered.
What would be your approach to handling this behavior if it were your questions ignored? What if a citizen or fellow council member’s budget question went unanswered?
HENRY: The primary duty of the City Council is to protect the financial security of the city. One of the most basic functions of oversight is performed by passing the budget. The council will have all the relevant information it needs in order to carry out that duty, and it’s my expectation that the mayor and members of his administration will provide that information.
2) Warwick City Council subcommittee meetings often run over time, delaying the start of the full Council meeting. What is your assessment of this process? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
HENRY: I respect the time of members of the public. I want to ensure that the required notices are properly posted by the City Clerk’s office, and that information relative to the meetings is easily accessible to any interested parties. There could be processes by which we could increase the predictability of scheduled meeting start times, such as continuing subcommittee meetings to a future date at a certain time (for example, 9 p.m.) in order to move on to the full Council meeting at a reasonable time. However, these processes that are in place already exist for a reason, so I am not prepared to require council members to amend their processes on my first day on the Council. I will need to experience them to discover the pros and cons of what is already in place. But if the subcommittee process is not working as intended, as a body we should be open to amending as needed to facilitate city business being completed in a predictable manner.
3) What other processes of the City Council would you argue to change?
HENRY: As someone who already works in local government, I strive for efficiency and transparency for the taxpayer. We can certainly improve the accessibility of information made available on our website. It’s going to take some time to experience the current City Council processes and learn why they exist as they do, but I value the time and input of the taxpayers and encourage them to take part in the City Council meetings. We need to be accessible and responsive to their concerns.
4) During a recent City Council meeting, Councilman Ed Ladouceur complained of his inability to get the City to properly repair Lipitt Park following a recent car crash that damaged it. The meeting ended with his successful resolution forcing the City to make the repairs.
Should citizens expect that their council representative must pursue such measures to secure City services? How would you address this problem?
HENRY: I do not expect this specific case will result in a precedent of facility repairs requiring full Council action in order to be completed. It appears that the damages from the accident required additional time for the insurance claim to process, and I would have to speak with the administration to determine when the repair was scheduled once that process was complete. That being said, the taxpayers should be able to reliably expect that issues such as this will be addressed in a timely manner.
5) Looking back at the 2019 Warwick Schools budget crisis, how would you handle city and school communication differently?
HENRY: I look forward to working with the School Committee and other stakeholders to maintain good lines of communication among all the parties involved. We need to remember that we are all part of the same community, and the way we improve our school system’s educational outcomes is by working together.
Our population in Warwick is comparable to that of Cranston. Our education costs are $3 million higher per year than that of Cranston, and their enrollment is 17% higher than ours. Despite the lower enrollment and higher price tag than a comparably sized city, the data put out by the state Department of Education indicates that Warwick achievement is not markedly higher than that of Cranston. So rather than indiscriminately committing more taxpayer dollars to a challenged school system, I think we need to address the deeper issues in the system that are producing the results that we’re seeing today. And if doing so requires additional investment, we should certainly do that, but we need to understand how those investments are going to help the students and improve their educational outcomes. I’ve been trained in program design and program management. If a program isn’t working, the way to achieve program goals is to change the program, not merely increase the program budget and expect that the underlying problems will be fixed. Being an advocate for schools means fixing the problems that exist, not just committing more money to them in the budget and calling it a day.
6) Millions of dollars have been budgeted the last few years for repairing Warwick’s roads, yet only a fraction of that amount is ever used. For instance, in the article, Schools’ Budget Ask Would Have Added $104 to Median Tax Bill, DPW Director Mat Solitro reported there was $3.1M unspent from the $5M in the previous year’s paving budget. This year, the paving budget was reduced to $500K, but a $10M bond has been secured for paving.
Will you continue to vote to approve budgeting paving funds in amounts the city typically fails to use?
HENRY: As with any budgetary item, the funding level should reflect an accurate and rational determination of what the city will spend in the fiscal year. I will work with the City Council and the administration to increase transparency around the paving budget. The conditions of many of the roads in Ward 9 warrant comprehensive action by the City. My background as a planner is well-suited to overseeing the planning and financing of infrastructure improvements, and I intend to cut through the politics holding back progress on this issue and deliver results for the residents of Ward 9.
7) How would you make the city’s road projects more accountable and transparent to citizens?
HENRY: Road conditions is one of the most frequent topics of discussion while I’m out talking to people in the ward. There are streets people have shown me that haven’t been resurfaced curb to curb in over thirty years. In order to deal with this problem, the city has contracted a third party engineering firm to assess the conditions of the roads within the city. Using the information gathered by that review, we will determine an objective criteria by which to schedule the completion of improvements.
Road resurfacing takes place in conjunction with maintenance and replacement of other infrastructure located beneath the road surface, such as water, gas, and sewer pipes. Maintenance of those other utilities needs to be a part of that consideration when scheduling road resurfacing, so we can minimize cutting into new pavement and make those improvements last as long as possible.
8) Was the surprise Dec. 20 special meeting to ratify the Firefighter’s Contract called by the Warwick City Council, catching one Council member on a flight, and ultimately ruled illegal, a wise decision?
HENRY: I think the results of that meeting being declared invalid (not illegal) speak for themselves. I also intend to follow the advice of the city solicitor on any questions of validity or legality to avoid situations where the legality of a Council decision may be called into question.
9) Considering the Warwick Firefighters’ union’s past history with contractual agreements, was it wise to pass the document with uncorrected errors?
HENRY: What is most important in contract ratification by the City Council is the overall financial obligation that the city can expect to incur as a result. Contract language should be as unambiguous as possible. Because the City Council does not have the power to negotiate contracts, we rely on the mayor and city administration to fulfill that role, and the Council can only provide an up-or-down vote on what is negotiated and brought for approval. While approving a contract with typos is not a good look, in this case they did not materially change what is understood to be in the contract. The intent of the city is clear in that example of the ¼ vs 1¼ error that was approved in the most recent contract, and as Mr. DePasquale noted, errors of that sort were to be corrected in the final version of the contract. Each contract should be evaluated on a case-by-base basis, so this instance shouldn’t result in a pattern going forward that we should expect errors in the text of a contract.