WARWICK, RI — Independent mayoral candidate Frank Picozzi, well known for the Picozzi Family Christmas light display, has not yet spoken in detail about recent high-profile Warwick governing decisions, so Warwick Post gave him and incumbent Mayor Joseph Solomon the opportunity to weigh in on them with a Warwick Mayoral Race Q&A.
Warwick Post.com emailed the same questions to each candidate last week and gave them until Monday, Oct. 19, to respond. Each was asked to acknowledge receipt of the emailed questions, and their intent to answer them.
Picozzi replied on Oct. 14 to acknowledge receipt of the questionnaire and returned his answers on Oct. 19. 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.
Do you recognize your responsibility to answer questions about the annual City budget you draft?
PICOZZI: “I believe in transparency. The Mayor is responsible for creating and submitting a proposed budget to the City Council for approval following a public hearing process. The purpose of the public process is to provide transparency to the public so they may be informed as to how their tax dollars will be spent. The City Council is the body that is actually responsible for approving the budget and is able to make changes to the budget as it sees fit.
If the Mayor is asking the City Council to approve a $300million budget and is asking the tax payers to pay for a $300 million budget then I believe the Mayor is obligated to answer each question honestly and directly so the Council and the tax payers have a full understanding of how and where their tax dollars are being spent.
Should the Mayor not be able to answer a question, I believe that he should seek out the answer and respond to the Council either publicly at the next public hearing or in writing prior to the Council vote and the written comments should be publicly posted so that the City Council and the tax payers have the answers to their questions.”
2) 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.
How would you plan to use these funds as budgeted for this year so the citizens may see the results of the full $10 million in paving this coming season? What is the use of continually budgeting funds the city cannot use?
PICOZZI: “Bonding is a regular and accepted practice for state and local government to pay for major infrastructure improvements over time. I think it makes sense to bond major improvements over time especially with the current low interest rates.
This practice allows governments to provide needed improvements and repairs immediately while keeping the tax rate low and spreading the payments out over time…more bang for the buck! Cities who attempt to implement a pay as you go program to pay for these improvements end up falling behind and with their roads and other infrastructure ends up failing.
That being said, I do not believe the full $10 million dollars is intended or can be spent in one construction season. I believe the City should establish a roadway improvement list that considers the condition of the roads within the City and repaves or rebuilds the roads that in the worst shape first. I also believe that a roadway repair bonding program should be an ongoing long term budget item in the annual City budget. That way the City can dedicate millions of dollars annually for paving and regularly budget the bond payments ($500k) to insure the City’s roads are continually improved.”
3) 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 will you ensure this doesn’t repeat itself?
I believe it is the responsibility of all elected officials including council members and the Mayor to be responsive to the tax payers concerns.
The reason we have elected officials is to provide needed services to the public and to assist the tax payers. I do not believe that a councilperson should have to pursue resolutions to force the City to provide the services that the tax payers actually pay for. I believe that if a council members calls City Hall to request a needed repair or to address a concern of a tax payer that the Mayor and City personnel should be ready and able to assist the councilperson with their request. I believe this is a relationship issue. It appears that the current Mayor likes to govern through intimidation and bullying tactics (see Mr. Schuster’s letter to the Warwick Beacon).
I have said this time and time again, when I am the Mayor I will strive to build better relationships with the City Council and the School Committee. Should we disagree we will disagree respectfully and without retribution and without being vindictive like the current Mayor and his administration. If a councilperson calls with a legitimate complaint or concern, it will be addressed promptly without the need of formal City Council resolutions.”
4) Looking back at the 2019 Warwick Schools budget crisis, how would you have handled things differently?
PICOZZI: “As I have mentioned, I was Chairman of the School Committee and I understand how the School Department and the School Department budget functions. I have pledged to initiate and to maintain ongoing meetings and discussions with the School Committee and School Administration. I will not just speak to the School Department when it’s time to approve the budget. I believe this continued communication will provide both sides with an understanding of the finances and the needs of each party.
In the case of the 2019 School Budget crisis, I would have understood the severity of the shortfall due to my pledge of continual communications and would have property funded the schools from the beginning and not have allocated the necessary tax dollars to inflated line items like a $5million paving budget. Apparently Mayor Solomon was learning on the fly that it would be better to bond paving at $500K annually and to provide appropriate funding to the schools by utilizing the inflated paving budget.”
5) 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?
PICOZZI: “As I mentioned previously, I am about transparency, honesty and communication. I do not believe in trying to hoodwink and deceive people or using dirty political tactics to get what I want.
I believe that scheduling a surprise meeting to attempt to approve the Firefighter’s contract was a dirty political tactic to get an approval in the dark of night and without allowing the proper public process to take place. Mayor Solomon constantly touts his success in getting the City Council the authority to ratify contracts but then when he became the Mayor he personally tried to sidestep and undermine the approval process by purposely scheduling a surprise meeting so he could sneak through and (sic) approval without anyone being aware.
This clearly was not a wise decision.”
6) Considering Warwick Firefighters’ union’s past history with contractual agreements, was it wise to advocate for passing the document with uncorrected errors?
PICOZZI: “To begin with, Mayor Solomon first tried to sneak the Firefighter contract through without allowing a proper public process and he got caught. Second, Mayor Solomon called out the prior administration for not properly reviewing language in prior contracts but yet he himself did exactly the same thing only worse because he initially tried to sneak a flawed document by the public and the City Council by attempting to circumvent the proper process and procedures. Anytime you have a complicated document like a union contract there may be unintended errors and typos. However, should the Mayor be aware of the errors he should have them corrected prior to submitting it to the City Council for approval.
Also, I believe the public process is intended to provide the tax payers and the City Council with the information and the time to ask appropriate questions, to suggest changes and to discover potential error, typos and/or inconsistencies within the document. Should there be errors discovered in the document, they should be corrected prior to approval by the City Council so the Council and the tax payers know the precise language that it is approving.