Charter review panel seeks feedback

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Should the city consider any changes to its governing document?

The Charter Review Commission will take up that question in the months ahead, and its members are asking local officials and residents to take part in the conversation.

“We’re looking for any suggested changes in the city charter … any ideas of how to make local government work better,” said Steven Frias, who serves as the commission’s chairman.

The commission’s next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Oct. 23 at City Hall, and Frias said he has contacted local officials to request their comments for that gathering. Additional meetings will be held through the end of the year and into early 2020, he said, including gatherings focused on suggestions from the public.

Under the current timeline, Frias said, the commission will decide upon and forward any recommended charter amendments to the City Council in April or May. From there, city leaders will decide whether to forward the proposals to the November ballot.

Under the terms of the charter, the Charter Review Commission is established periodically. Its most recent iteration was active from 2009-10.

“One of the amendments that came out of that process was that a charter commission has to be appointed every 10 years,” Frias said, explaining the timing of the current commission’s formation.

The 2009-10 process also led to a change in the length of mayoral terms – from two to four years, with a limit of two consecutive terms – and the requirement that Cranston Public Schools labor contracts receive approval from both the School Committee and the City Council.

Members of the council and the mayor appoint the members of the commission. In addition to Frias – who was appointed by Mayor Allan Fung – the commission’s members include Michael Lepizzera, Edward Coccio, Robert Santurri Jr., Ellen O’Hara, Evan Kirshenbaum, Dan DosSantos, Joseph Agresti, Katie Nee and Matthew Reilly.

Frias – an attorney, historian, Republican National Committeeman and former candidate for state representative – was elected chairman during the commission’s organizational meeting in September. O’Hara, a former Democratic City Council member from Ward 1 and appointee of Citywide Councilman Steve Stycos, was elected vice chairwoman.

Frias said from a personal standpoint, his focus during the charter review will be on “financial issues.” He broached the possibility of expanding the mayor’s veto authority, lowering the annual cap for local tax increases or creating requirements regarding funding of the city’s pension and other post-employment benefits, or OPEB, obligations.

“Personally, I’d be interested in seeing if there are ways to put safeguards into the city charter so Cranston can maintain fiscal stability … I don’t want to go back to a situation where we were a junk bond status city,” he said.

Frias said he has contacted the city clerk about establishing an email to use for the submission of charter review suggestions. In the meantime, he said, community members may send ideas to Assistant City Clerk Rosalba Zanni at rzanni@cranstonri.org with a subject line clearly marking the message as related to the charter review.

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