By DANIEL KITTREDGE Citing a "e;terrific chance to build on a solid record of success with a new and spirited beginning for our government and citizens,"e; Ken Hopkins was sworn in Monday as the city's 21st mayor. "e;Everyone has their own piece of Cranston
Citing a “terrific chance to build on a solid record of success with a new and spirited beginning for our government and citizens,” Ken Hopkins was sworn in Monday as the city’s 21st mayor.
“Everyone has their own piece of Cranston they love or remember, maybe as a child. It might be going to a movie, enjoying an ice cream cone or going to a local restaurant or store. It might be a high school football game on a Friday night or a neighborhood playground or walking trail,” Hopkins said during his inaugural remarks.
He added: “Those memories and times are what I cherish as a resident, father and grandfather. As mayor, I want everyone to say that we are preserving the best of Cranston while creating new or revitalized neighborhoods, special memories and opportunities for our next generation.”As the pandemic wears on, the inaugural activities took on a much different form than prior years. Hopkins took the oath of office in City Hall’s Council Chambers, joined by a small group of participants – comprised of family, a police color guard, members of the media and a handful of others – while members of the public followed through an online stream. The new mayor then virtually swore in the members of the City Council and School Committee for the new term.
The ongoing crisis made its presence even more directly felt during the proceedings, too. Just prior to the 7 p.m. start time, outgoing Mayor Allan Fung – who had been set to swear in his successor – tested positive for COVID-19. Michael Traficante, a former mayor and current School Committee member who was active in the Hopkins campaign, filled in to administer the oath of office.
In his inaugural remarks, Hopkins’s reprised a number of themes and pledges from his campaign for the city’s top elected office. He summed up his priorities through three broad “themes” – “protect your tax dollars,” “protect our neighborhoods” and “protect our special quality of life.”
“I take seriously my responsibility to ensure the proper and effective spending of taxpayer funds,” he said. “A $300 million budget requires effective leadership to live within our means and keep the cost of our government down for the taxpayers. We need to keep taxes affordable at a time when residents expect us to do even more with limited resources.”
Planning for the coming fiscal year’s budget will be among the first tasks facing the new mayor. Hopkins said his administration will prepare a city budget plan for introduction to the City Council by April 1.
Hopkins said he is “grateful” to new House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi for the recent state budget agreement for the current year that preserves aid to the city, and added that obtaining the “support and help of state leaders for reliable and consistent municipal aid and fewer mandates will top my agenda.”
Hopkins made reference to the state-mandated revaluation process that is currently underway, and advised residents that they should expect home values used to tabulate tax bills for the coming year “will reflect a rising real estate market.”
“Our goal will be to find the right tax rate to insure fairness in everyone’s tax bills,” he said. “Preliminary assessment notices will be going out with figures in February and I have instructed the tax assessor to make sure taxpayers have ample opportunity to review and discuss the new assessments with the outside revaluation company.”
The new mayor also said: “As evidence of my commitment to watch your tax dollars, I will be directing that only essential positions be filled at this time and that we scrutinize all departmental spending requests.”
Elsewhere, Hopkins said his long-planned Rolfe Square revitalization project would commence immediately. The project involves both short- and long-term components.
“Tomorrow morning, our DPW will start the cleanup,” he said.
The new mayor also said he will issue an executive order “outlining the importance that I attach to honest public service and the ethical standards and integrity I expect of all public employees.”
Hopkins called for the new council to “promptly” consider and approve several administrative appointments that are subject to the advice and consent process, and said he will seek to continue several emergency orders that have been in place under the Fung administration during the pandemic.
In terms of the city’s COVID-19 response, Hopkins called on Cranstonians to “keep up your support for safe health practices, be patient and help your friends and neighbors in that true Cranston spirit that makes us a unique community of achievement and concern.”
“As the availability of more vaccines and therapeutics increases, I am both hopeful and confident that 2021 will be a year of many new beginnings for our city,” he said. “We need to restart our local economy and restore jobs and employment opportunities for the thousands of small business owners and residents that are an important part of our commercial and industrial tax base.”
He also added: “We need to get our classrooms safely opened; our athletic programs fully implemented and our art, music and cultural learning opportunities re-established in a way all students deserve. I also look forward to reopening our City Hall and municipal buildings to allow for better citizen access and direct contact with your governmental officials.”
A former teacher, Hopkins branded himself as the “education mayor” during his campaign. During Monday’s remarks, he said he is “reaffirming my commitment to making education and our schools a major focus of my administration.” He highlighted the broad support from city voters in November for the district’s $147 million bond question, which will fund a five-year facilities improvement plan.
In terms of public safety, Hopkins said: “Under no circumstances will I support the defunding of the police department. Our first responders have rightfully earned the respect of our residents and always act professionally with competence in their duties.”
Hopkins grew emotional toward the end of his remarks as he thanked his family and his late wife, Mary.
“As a wife, mother, grandmother, teacher and best friend, she showed me the faith, inspiration and confidence to be a public servant,” he said. “I stand tonight with her spirit knowing that we can make a difference by working together.”
Dennis DeJesus served as the master of ceremonies for Monday’s inaugural. Frank Picozzi, Warwick’s new mayor, was on hand for the ceremony, and Hopkins said he planned to attend Picozzi’s inaugural on Tuesday.