On February 16, Providence City Councilor Seth Yurdin introduced an ordinance that will prohibit Providence from doing business with banks that provide financing to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Despite assurances that the ordinance would be heard during the next Providence City Council Ordinance Committee meeting, it’s been nearly a month, and the ordinance has not been scheduled. As a result, twenty people turned up at the Ordinance Committee meeting Monday night to hold signs and let the committee chair and committee members know that they were not happy.
The Providence City Council Ordinance Committee is chaired by Councilor Terrence Hassett. Councilor Bryan Principe serves on the Ordinance Committee as Vice-Chair, and Councilors Carmen Castillo, Mary Kay Harris and Jo-Ann Ryan make up the rest of the committee. Castillo and Harris were absent Monday night. The agenda for Monday evening’s meeting consisted of two items, both unrelated to DAPL or divestment.
Councilor Principe was on notice about his constituents displeasure at the delay in hearing the ordinance. At a town hall style meeting organized by the West Broadway Neighborhood Association (WBNA), Principe heard from constituents and declined to back the idea of divestment, saying that he thinks the ordinance should, “get a full and proper vetting through first the committee and then the council,” while not committing to supporting the ordinance itself.
When asked at the WBNA meeting why the divestment ordinance had not yet been scheduled, Principe shrugged and said that there’s nothing preventing the ordinance from being heard in committee; but then Principe noted the powerlessness of constituents in influencing the City Council, saying, “Giving your opinion on it will not necessarily make it come onto the agenda any faster or slower although it doesn’t hurt, in general, to definitely let your opinion be known on how you feel about it.”
At the Ordinance Committee meeting Monday night, Molly Henry, a resident of Principe’s Ward 13, signed up to speak. When Hassett called on her, rather than speak on the agenda item Henry asked about the status of Yurdin’s divestment ordinance and asked about why it has not been scheduled for consideration, despite previous assurances. Henry spoke about the divestment ordinance for a little over a minute before Hassett broke in, even offering to help make changes in the ordinance to strengthen it. (You can see many of the suggestions for strengthening the ordinance below.)
“Okay, I have to interrupt you,” said Hassett, “We’re not on this issue. This is not on the agenda for a public hearing.”
“But I was…” said Henry.
“No. You cannot speak,” insisted Hassett, “It’s the rule of the chamber.”
Henry said that information on the divestment ordinance had been prepared for the councilors to consider, and offered the copies to the committee.
“We’ll take that matter up next week,” said Hassett.
After the committee meeting Councilors Principe and Ryan told their constituents that Yurdin’s divestment ordinance would heard at next week’s Ordinance Committee hearing.
That meeting has yet to be scheduled.
“According to Food and Water Watch, Citizens Bank is providing $72,500,000 in financing to Sunoco Logistics Partners, one of the principal pipeline partners,” read a Providence City Council press release when Yurdin introduced his ordinance, “DAPL is a $3.7billion 1,200 mile pipeline designed to transport fracked oil from the Bakken Oil Field in North Dakota to Patoka Illinois near Chicago. DAPL has has been opposed by certain Native Americans due to concerns about local environmental and cultural impacts on their lands. DAPL is also opposed by climate change advocates. In 2016 President Barrack Obama blocked DAPL from proceeding. Upon taking office, President Donald Trump revived the fracked oil pipeline project.”
No DAPL RI, which organized the sign holding at the Ordinance Committee meeting, issued the following statement earlier in the day on Facebook:
No DAPL RI’s requests to the Providence City Council:
Amendment of Chapter 2, Article I, adding Section2-18.6 “City Investments and Contracts with Banks Lending to the Dakota Access Pipeline Project.”
Please schedule a regular meeting with the Ordinance Committee prior to the April 6, 2017 City Council meeting.
Please allow two guest speakers, Randy R. Noka (Narragansett Tribal Councilman) and Dr. Elizabeth Hoover (Assistant Professor of American Studies at Brown University) 5 minutes each to speak at the ordinance committee meeting.
Please have someone from the City of Providence (e.g. Finance Department) present who is knowledgeable about the different accounts held and the ease of moving the different accounts to banks that don’t support the Dakota Access Pipeline.
We request the language of the ordinance be amended to state “terminate accounts with banks that provided loans to the Dakota Access Pipeline, or open lines of credit to the companies that own the pipeline during the time period of design and construction”. In the case of Providence that includes Citizens Bank, Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase.
We request that the ordinance is amended to state “gives preference to local banks that don’t finance fossil fuel infrastructure and credit unions based in Rhode Island,” to prevent future atrocities and to improve the local economy.
If the City of Providence needs more time to research accounts to hold a regular ordinance committee meeting before April 6, please hold a public hearing to gauge the public’s support/opposition to the amendment prior to April 6.
If a committee member wishes to expand the amendment to include other unethical practices, Seattle [City Councilor] Kashama Sawant’s office is open to speaking with [Providence city councilors] about Seattle’s ordinance.
One final note: It appears that Councilor Hassett was within the rules when he cut Molly Henry off in the middle of her testimony. Since Henry was not speaking on the agenda items, Hassett could certainly prevent her from speaking on the divestment ordinance, but he didn’t have to stop her from speaking. Hassett could have let Henry speak, but chose to enforce the rule that confines “remarks to the question under discussion or debate.” Here’s the pertinent section of the Open Meetings Act:
42-46-6(d) Nothing within this chapter shall prohibit any public body, or the members thereof, from responding to comments initiated by a member of the public during a properly noticed open forum even if the subject matter of a citizen’s comments or discussions were not previously posted, provided such matters shall be for informational purposes only and may not be voted on except where necessary to address an unexpected occurrence that requires immediate action to protect the public or to refer the matter to an appropriate committee or to another body or official. Nothing contained in this chapter requires any public body to hold an open forum session, to entertain or respond to any topic nor does it prohibit any public body from limiting comment on any topic at such an open forum session. No public body, or the members thereof, may use this section to circumvent the spirit or requirements of this chapter.