Cranston mayor announces restraining order in ARPA funding dispute

Posted 6/21/24

The city’s mayor and city council may settle their dispute over the use of federal pandemic-era funding in court.

On Friday, June 21, Cranston Mayor Kenneth J. Hopkins announced that the …

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Cranston mayor announces restraining order in ARPA funding dispute


The city’s mayor and city council may settle their dispute over the use of federal pandemic-era funding in court.

On Friday, June 21, Cranston Mayor Kenneth J. Hopkins announced that the “Cranston City Council, has agreed, through their attorney, to a temporary restraining order on the use of ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds as had been pursued by administration attorneys in the Providence County Superior Court legal action.”

During a City Council meeting last month, the mayor’s Chief of Staff Anthony Morretti suggested the mayor’s office and city council go to the courts, in a friendly way, to clear up several murky ARPA DETAILS.

A lawsuit was filed on June 6, “seeking judicial clarification over the powers of the chief executive and city council to expend funds from Cranston’s allocation of funds received from the federal (ARPA),” according to the mayor’s office.

“The agreement by the City Council to the injunction we sought will eliminate the need to go forward today with the scheduled hearing before Judge Christopher Smith,” Hopkins said in a press release. “As part of the court order the Council agreed that the implementation of the operating and capital budgets for Fiscal Year 2025 that relied on ARPA funding would be enjoined until Aug. 30 … unless additional agreements are reached by the parties.”

Taxpayers will foot the bill for the attorneys on both sides of this disagreement.

“My hope is that the City Council majority will reconsider my repeated offers to try and resolve this matter amicably and without costly litigation and unnecessary rancor,” Hopkins said. “I sincerely believe that the actions by the city council majority exceeded their authority. We are seeking the declaratory judgment from the Superior Court to clarify and define the council's role in the use and expenditure of special grants like the ARPA funds.”

According to a press release from Hopkins’s office, the pending litigation is “limited to only the administration’s view of the unlawful use of the ARPA funds by the city council.”

“The rest of the $323 million operating and capital budgets are not being questioned or affected,” Hopkins said. “We will start the new fiscal year on July 1 with all aspects of city and school operations fully underway for the benefit of taxpayers, students, parents, and local businesses.”

According to the mayor, “This is an important policy issue to clarify the city’s long-standing practices and beliefs as to the scope of executive authority under the City Charter and local ordinances.”

According to Hopkins’ office, the budget overrides were not only political but bad financial decisions as well. Moretti presented a few slides to help explain the mayor’s perspective.

The Background

On May 6, city council voted to fund several school capital projects with ARPA money, which needs to be spent by the end of the year, or lost.

Moretti argued that the city stands to lose around $1.5 million in state reimbursement if the city uses ARPA funds for school-based capital projects (since the state has promised 74 percent school aid reimbursement).

On a 6-3 party-line vote, the Democratic members of city council all voted to override multiple lines in Hopkins’s proposed budget.

“As a result of their actions to override, they displayed negligence by dismissing several prudent financial practices that I advocated for,” Hopkins said after the meeting. “Notably, these included: forfeiting over $1.5 million in school reimbursement aid for our school capital projects; using ARPA funds which creates a structural deficit for the next fiscal year; unrealistic increase in revenue requirements that will result in a structural deficit; and causing risk to public safety by reducing funding toward snow removal and traffic signals, along with other items.”

The mayor’s office and members of city council have all confirmed receiving conflicting legal advice regarding the use of ARPA funds, project allocation and future reimbursements (the state may not reimburse for projects funded by ARPA funds, to avoid “double dipping,” as Moretti told city council on May 6).

“We had one attorney say that we could, and we had two attorneys say that their opinion was that we could not,” said Republican City-Wide Councilor Nicole Renzulli. “In my mind, two is greater than one … I do not believe that we should be using the ARPA funding in this way.”

During the meeting, Moretti proposed going to court, “not in an adversarial fashion,” but rather “in a cooperative fashion,” to see where the law “stands” on the use of ARPA funds. His suggestion was mostly ignored, but ultimately led to the June 6 lawsuit.

“Additionally, the Democrat-controlled council declined to cooperate with me to pursue proper judicial process in clarifying the appropriate authority for utilizing ARPA funds,” Hopkins said last month. “Instead, the council moved forward and unilaterally allocated millions of ARPA funds without executive department process. That’s just not good government.”

The six Democrats — Marino, Donegan, Vargas, Kristen E. Haroian, Daniel Wall and Robert J. Ferri — ultimately voted to steer $2,062,750 in ARPA funding to six school projects — an HVAC boiler upgrade at Cranston High School East; asbestos floor replacements at several schools and the city’s stadium. Renzulli and fellow Republicans, Richard D. Campopiano and Christopher G. Paplauskas voted against all the vetoes but repeatedly lost the votes 6 to 3.

This story will be updated if more information becomes available. 


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