Supporters of the CSA confronted the Providence City Council over delays in advancing the legislation out of committee and to the full City Council for a vote. Along the way a pattern of legislative obstruction was seemingly identified in the Ordinance Committee, chaired by City Councilor Terrence Hassett.
The November 28 Providence City Council Ordinance Committee meeting that was supposed to approve the Community Safety Act (CSA) and send it on the the full City Council for a vote before the end of the year was cancelled, or, in the words of Committee Chair Terrence Hassett, rescheduled for December 5. As a result, passing the CSA before the end of the year seems unlikely.
In response, the STEP-UP Coalition, a coalition of groups dedicated to passing the CSA, packed the final City Council meeting of the year with over 130 people to register their disappointment and to call for passage of the community version of the act, not the version being worked on by Mayor Jorge Elorza‘s office.
Vanessa Flores-Maldonado, STEP-UP Coalition campaign coordinator, rallied the protesters, and pointed out that despite assurances that the Ordinance Committee meeting had been rescheduled and not simply cancelled, the meeting had yet to be officially posted.
As City Council President Luis Aponte prepared to begin the City Council meeting, fresh from having attended the beginning of RI Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello‘s $250 minimum admission fundraiser just a walk across Burnside Park at Deepwater Wind’s offices, the people began to chant, “Pass the CSA!”
After the chants ended, Aponte conducted the City Council meeting as if there weren’t 130 determined people watching and a dozen cops keeping watch on the people.
Only nine out of fifteen city councilors were present at the beginning of the meeting. Jo-Ann Ryan, John Igliozzi, Mary Kay Harris, Terrence Hassett, Wilbur Jennings and Sabina Matos were marked absent. Hassett showed up shortly after the meeting got under way. Jennings, it was noted, had been injured in an accident and was recuperating.
Late in the meeting, city councilor Seth Yurdin rose to present his his petition compelling the Ordinance Committee to hold a hearing on December 13 on his resolution against National Grid‘s proposed Fields Point liquefaction plant. After Yurdin said his piece, Councilor Sam Zurier rose to explain that the hearing scheduled for December 13 was the result of a petition signed by 50 Providence residents.
The law that allowed this petition, said Zurier, “is an important check on the arbitrary behavior by committee chairmen.” Zurier compared the difficulty in getting a hearing on the liquefaction resolution to the difficulty in getting a hearing on the CSA. It was not lost on most of those in attendance that the committee chair Zurier was referring to was Terrence Hassett, who was seemingly engaged in reading through his notes as Yurdin and Zurier spoke, and never looked up.
Zurier hinted that he was going to use similar petitions in the future to force committee chairs to hold meetings on items they might otherwise block. Councilor Carmen Castillo, a member of the Ordinance Committee, agreed that not holding a vote on the CSA was breaking a promise and that action was overdue.
Just before the meeting came to an end, City Councilors Jo-Ann Ryan, Mary Kay Harris and Sabina Matos arrived. Turns out, they had been in a finance committee meeting. The crowd once again broke into chants of “Pass the CSA!”
After the meeting I spoke briefly, on video, with Councilor Hassett, pointing out that though he said the meeting was scheduled for December 5, it wasn’t showing up as such on the internet. Hassett suggested that Thanksgiving and Friday “screwed everything up” but if you check out this video at the 15m30s mark, you’ll see Hassett working out the original scheduling with staff, fully aware of the holidays he blames for the delay.
When I pointed out that the December 5 meeting hadn’t posted yet, Hassett said, “Hang on, I’m not going to dispute you here, I write laws. It’s on the docket for the 5th.”
“But it’s not listed on the Open Portal,” said Martha Yager.
“We don’t do our meetings until Friday,” said a woman who works for the city.
“Is it likely to be cancelled again?” I asked Hassett.
“No,” said Hassett, “It’s happening Monday.”
“Like I said,” added Hassett, “it’s not cancelled it’s rescheduled.”
“I know, but it’s not a lot of difference to the people in the outside world,” I countered.
“I know how to speak though,” said Hassett, “It’s very simple. Rescheduled, not cancelled.”
When the people left the city council chambers, they vowed to return, in numbers just as large, on Monday night for the Ordinance Committee meeting. They left with chants of “Whose city? Our city!” and of course, “Pass the CSA!”
I’ll have a full report on Monday’s meeting.