Environment

Providence Finance Committee ignores large outcry, passes ProvPort resolutions

The fix was in from the beginning, as the Providence Finance Committee, under the leadership of Councilmember Jo-Ann Ryan, disregarded procedure and the community to force through legislation no one but insiders testified in favor of.

Rhode Island News: Providence Finance Committee ignores large outcry, passes ProvPort resolutions

November 29, 2022, 3:01 pm

By Steve Ahlquist

In the end, any pretext of fairness or community engagement was jettisoned as Providence City Council Finance Chair Jo-Ann Ryan (Ward 5) rushed the vote on two ProvPort ordinances that dozens of Providence residents just asked to be held for greater public examination, understanding and input.

There were no deliberations. Providence City Councilmember Helen Anthony (Ward 2) made a motion to continue the two ordinances until a future date. Ignoring her, Councilmember Nicholas Narducci (Ward 4) proposed his own motion to immediately pass the two pieces of legislation, as amended by Councilmember James Taylor (Ward 8). Taylor seconded the motion.

“Motion made, seconded, all in favor?” said Chair Ryan, to a chorus of ayes and one nay (from Councilmember Anthony). “The matter passes.”

Councilmember Pedro Espinal, who represents Ward 10 which abuts the Port of Providence, tried to address the Finance Committee, but was ignored.

“Madam Chair?” asked Councilmember Espinal. “There’s no discussion?””

“We already voted, Sir,” said Chair Ryan.

“There was no time for discussion,” said Councilmember Espinal.

“If you would like to speak on these matters that have already been passed you may,” said Chair Ryan, driving home the point that it was over, and that the concerns of community members and any councilmember not on board with granting the ProvPort operators a sweetheart, insider deal were being ignored.

Jo Ann Ryan

The community members in attendance were shocked by Chair Ryan’s disdain for democracy, or at the very least, Robert’s Rules of Order. Cries rose from those in attendance.

“Wow!” “Unacceptable!” “Boo!” “Disgrace!”

The Sergeant at Arms moved to silence the crowd, as did the police officer on duty. Councilmember Espinal spoke for a little over our minutes to a Finance Committee that seemed uninterested in what he was saying. When he stopped speaking, community members in attendance let loose on those who voted in favor.

“Shame on you!” said Monica Huertas, executive director of the People’s Port Authority, which had mobilized dozens of people to be in attendance. Others in the crowd echoed “Shame!”

“The motion has been made and seconded and the matter has been passed,” said Chair Ryan, who moved on to the passage of three tax stabilization agreements.

“Yeah, by you three fucking pigs. By you three assholes.”

“It’s a lame duck abuse of power!”

“Yes it is.”

“You should be ashamed of yourself!”

“Exactly.”

As community members rose to leave in disgust, they continued to call out the behavior of the Finance Committee. Chair Ryan banged her gavel impotently, and the law enforcement officers on duty moved in to evict everyone.

Monica Huertas left only after being forcibly shoved out the doors of the council chambers. Minutes later over a dozen Providence Police Officers arrived.

“Why are you here?” asked Uprise RI.

“I don’t know,” said a police officer.

Shame!

The meeting had begun over three hours earlier with Attorney Nicholas Hemond, formerly the Chair of the Providence School Board, but more recently the lawyer for Sea 3 LPG, a company who had wanted to expand the fossil fuel industry in the Port, over the objections of the Community. Sea 3 has lost its bid to expand, but Attorney Hemond would be more successful tonight.

Attorney Hemand and Christopher Waterson, whose company, Waterson Terminal Services, runs ProvPort operations, promoted the deal between ProvPort and the City of Providence to the Finance Committee with lackluster effort. It was apparent early on that the fix was in.

At issue were two resolutions, one authorizing a lease extension and bond indenture for ProvPort, Inc, the other a Tax Exemption Agreement. For more information on these resolutions, see:

Providence City Council passes ProvPort extension without community input

After the presentation from ProvPort, members of the community stood up to testify – not necessarily against the resolutions – but to express their concerns over the speed at which the ordinances were being passed and the lack of community engagement in crafting the legislation.

22 people spoke against fast-tracking the resolutions. They were all kept to a two-minute time limit for their comments by Chair Ryan. Click their name below to watch their testimony.

Four people spoke in favor. All those testifying in favor, save one, helped negotiate this deal behind the scenes without public input. Inexplicably, they were all given unlimited time to speak by Chair Ryan.

  • Larry Mancini, Chief Financial Officer for the City of Providence, spoke in favor of the ordinances.
  • Keith Stokes, who as Director of Business and Development for the City of Providence helped engineer the deal, spoke in favor.
  • Providence City Solicitor Jeff Dana, who helped put this deal together. Attorney Dana also was allowed to speak without worrying about the two minute limit.
  • The President of Providence’s International Longshoreman’s Association testified in favor, but said he understood the community’s concerns.

After public testimony, the Finance Committee took a break during which time there was a lot of activity in the back offices involving the members of the committee coming and going. Providence City Council President John Igliozzi was scurrying in and out of the offices holding hallway meetings with ProvPort lawyers and lobbyists.

Rumors started to fly that amendments were being worked on, amendments that Chair Ryan would describe as dealing with the concerns brought up by the public. As committee members disappeared into the back offices for minutes at a time, seemingly holding some sort of rolling quorum out of the sight of the public, Uprise RI heard definitively that two amendments were coming. One would be about how some of the money coming from the Port would be administered going forward, the other would have to do with fossil fuels.

The Finance Committee was called back into session and Councilmember Taylor introduced the two amendments.

“The biggest thing that was said was that things were rushed,” said Councilmember Taylor about the testimony presented to the committee, before dismissing the testimony as essentially baseless. “I don’t believe this was rushed. I know it’s been at least three years that I’ve been hearing about it. I do believe we could have done a better job of informing the public about it, but I don’t believe it was rushed.”

In fact, Councilmember Taylor misrepresented what was said. No one disputed that the deal worked out took a long time to negotiate. They said that that the deal was being rushed through the legislative process after it had been completed.

Councilmember Taylor then said that as a retired firefighter, he knows that people confuse the businesses within ProvPort with some of the industries neighboring ProvPort. Specifically Councilmember Taylor tried to say that the salt piles are not actually part of the Port of Providence, but abutting it. He made the same claim about an asphalt company and scrap piles not being part of the Port of Providence.

But on a list of businesses within the Port of Providence, Lehigh Cement and Morton Salt are listed as being in ProvPort. There are also existing fossil fuel businesses in the Port. Was Councilmember Taylor lying to the public?

One of the amendments would ban the expansion of fossil fuel companies in the Port of Providence.

The other is more problematic. It would direct money guaranteed in the Community Benefits section to be distributed by the City’s Board of Park Commissioners to advance climate adaptation and mitigation. This is a lot of money and power for the Board of Park Commissioners. Who sits on that Board?

In addition the Mayor of Providence and others, that board includes Councilmembers Nicholas Narducci, who sits on the Finance Committee and seconded Councilmember Taylor’s amendments, and current City Council President John Igliozzi, who had been furiously working behind the scenes to whip votes for the legislation.

Finance Committee member Helen Anthony then spoke at length about the ProvPort deal, stressing that taking a little extra time and not immediately passing the resolutions would be best practice.

“This is a very sensitive area,” said Councilmember Anthony. “It is an area discussed in the Climate Justice Plan that I am so proud that this council has passed. [The Climate Justice Plan] is not mentioned at all in this [legislation] and it doesn’t seem to be impacting decisions. It must be an integral part of what happens when we make this decision on ProvPort.”

Councilmember Anthony’s words were for naught. In the end, all the words of care, concern, and community were ignored.

The legislation will be heard by the full Providence City Council at their next meeting.

Council President John igliozzi
Nicholas Hemond