NEWS

'Livid' Hopkins sounds off on diversity panel, budget

By DANIEL A. KITTREDGE
Posted 5/19/21

By DANIEL KITTREDGE Mayor Ken Hopkins says he is "livid" over the City Council's removal of administrative appointments from a proposed new Diversity Commission, calling it a "slap in the face." And his frustration doesn't stop there. During an interview

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NEWS

'Livid' Hopkins sounds off on diversity panel, budget

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Mayor Ken Hopkins says he is “livid” over the City Council’s removal of administrative appointments from a proposed new Diversity Commission, calling it a “slap in the face.”

And his frustration doesn’t stop there.

During an interview late last week for the Herald’s “Radio Beacon” podcast, Hopkins remained sharply critical of the council’s amendments to his $311 million budget plan for the coming fiscal year, all of which were upheld despite the mayor’s issuance of several vetoes. He also took aim at the council’s legal adviser and questioned the actions of some members of the council’s Republican majority, saying he wants to send a “clear message.”

“They need to have a rude awakening,” he said of the council. “There’s a system of checks and balances that’s in place, but they have overstepped their boundaries.”

Here are some of the primary topics covered during the course of the roughly half-hour interview, with some additional comment and context.

Diversity Commission

The debate surrounding the Diversity Commission is set to continue later this month as the council considers an override of Hopkins’s veto of an ordinance amendment that would create the new panel.

The city’s most recent Diversity Commission was formed through a council resolution in 2019. This time around, supporters have pursued the creation of the panel through the city’s ordinances, which would codify it going forward.

The council unanimously approved an amended version of the Diversity Commission ordinance in April, reducing the size of the panel, removing mayoral appointments and eliminating a representative from the Cranston Senior Enrichment Center. Instead, the language of the ordinance amendment would provide for the council president and minority leader to each make two appointments.

Supporters of the changes have defended the amendments – which passed on a 7-2 vote – as broadening the scope of community representation on the new commission. Members of the council’s Democratic caucus noted that the fire chief, police chief and director of personnel will all serve on the commission, making one-third of its members representatives of the administration.

“I think the mayor still has a say … It really should be focused on the community,” Ward 1 Councilwoman Lammis Vargas said April 26.

In his veto message, Hopkins asked the council to “work with me” and restore some mayoral appointments to the new commission. Last week, he struck a different, less conciliatory tone.

“What the council did was manipulate the appointments to that board by taking away my appointments,” he said. “They didn’t want the executive branch to have influence on it.”

More than that, Hopkins said he views the council’s moves as having fueled a perception in some corners of the community that he is does not value, or is not committed to, diversity.

“To come back and slap me in the face and give this insinuation that I don’t care about the minority population really goes right up my ass, and I am so pissed at them for sending that message, across the board,” he said. “And then publicly, social media is jumping on board. They need to know that the record needs to be straightened out.”

He later added: “I just think it’s such a slap in the face to represent me in that light, and I’m offended by it. I’m extremely offended by what [the council is] doing and the message that they’re sending to our constituents, when the public gets on a Facebook social media page and they’re blasting me because they don’t think I care about diversity, that’s the furthest thing from the truth. I’ve worked my whole life trying to help minority candidates.”

Hopkins continued to hold up his administration as “the most diverse … in the history of the city of Cranston,” particularly touting the appointment of Franklin Paulino as director of economic development and diversity outreach. He spoke of his time coaching minority athletes, of his work on the previous incarnation of the Diversity Commission, and of the diversity within his own family.

“We have been working on this since day one, and they turn around and slap me in the face and make me look as though I don’t care about diversity,” he said. “Some groups have insinuated that I might even be a racist. It’s the furthest thing from the truth.”

Hopkins also rejected the argument that having Fire Chief James Warren, Police Chief Michael Winquist and Personnel Director Daniel Parrillo sit on the new Diversity Commission adequately represents the administration, and questioned whether the changes in the proposed panel’s composition achieve their intended purpose. He said he hopes the council will change course and allow him to make two appointments to the panel, which he said would be Sean Holley, who served on the mayor’s transition team, and Paulino.

“Obviously, those are three qualified, professional people. But they also represent three Caucasian males, which is not my idea of setting up a Diversity Commission. Granted, they’re all great guys. They all do a great job for me. But when I have two very qualified, very well-educated minorities, one who has an MBA, one has a doctorate in law, that should be representative of this administration on that commission, and I lose the right to appoint them, I’m extremely upset about that.”

Hopkins said beyond his veto message, he has raised the Diversity Commission issue with one councilwoman. “Nothing has been addressed,” he added.

Later in the interview, he said: “They don’t tell the truth with some of the messages that they’re sending out. You know, and people will hold them accountable for that. People know that I tell the truth, I’m an honest person, that I have my heart and soul poured into this job to make Cranston a better place. I don’t like playing politics. But they crossed the line on this one.”

Council President Chris Paplauskas on Tuesday said he expects the council to consider an override of the mayor’s Diversity Commission ordinance veto at its regular monthly meeting, which is scheduled for May 24.

City budget

The roughly $311 million budget plan Hopkins introduced on April 1 was adopted in amended form earlier this month, maintaining the key elements and contours of the mayor’s initial proposal.

But there are changes, including funding for new full-time positions in the city’s inspections and canvassing departments, as a result of several line-item adjustments approved by the council. Hopkins issued nine separate veto messages seeking to reverse many of those changes, but all were overridden by the council on a series of votes earlier this month.

Following those override votes, Hopkins called the council’s actions “disappointing and concerning.” During last week’s interview, he sharpened his critique, particularly in reference to some members of the council’s five-person Republican majority.

“My own party went against me in a 7-2 vote. So that’s something that needs to be addressed. I’m concerned about that,” he said. “But I gave a valid reason for every one of my vetoes, but they just fell on deaf ears. So the council wants to play politics, that’s fine with me. I’m a big boy and I’ll take off my gloves any day. But the bottom line is, I am doing what I think is in the best interest of the taxpayers of the city of Cranston.”

Paplauskas on Monday defended the council’s approach to the budget.

“I want to put things in perspective,” he said. “The mayor got 99.99 percent of everything he wanted and asked for included in his budget. The mayor is upset about three-tenths of 1 percent of a $311 budget. The city council, every year, always makes minor changes to the budget, and that’s what we did this year, increasing already great city services to the residents of Cranston.”

He added: “I’m not doing anything different than I’ve done the last seven years. I’ve always stuck up for the taxpayers, stuck up for the residents, listened to what my constituents would like me to do, and I’ve always voted with their best interest at heart. And I will continue to do so.”

Others, meanwhile, have continued to weigh in on the budget review process and the approved spending plan.

Ward 6 Councilman Matthew Reilly, chair of the Cranston Republican City Committee, echoed Hopkins in a statement following the adoption vote last week. The statement reads that the councilman had “distanced himself from the City Council’s recent budget veto overrides and expressed concern for the lack of financial responsibility shown by some of his fellow members of the City Council.”

“In a very calculated and orchestrated manner, certain members of the Council collaborated to ensure cushy raises or other financial benefits for specific individuals at the expense of the Cranston Taxpayer,” Reilly said.

He added: “Thankfully we had a budget with no tax increases to start with from Mayor Hopkins. I am also pleased that despite certain financial moves I disagree with, that we were able to hold the line on taxes for the people of Cranston … There are no longer any questions. To see who will truly protect the taxpayers of this city, people do not have to look further than this budget process. I am proud to have stood with the taxpayers of Cranston against the mainstream, as I always will.”

In a statement Tuesday, Maria Bucci, the 2020 Democratic nominee for mayor and current chair of the Cranston Democratic City Committee, continued to criticize the mayor’s budget as “fool’s gold” and “unsustainable.”

The council’s Democrats, Bucci’s statement reads, “worked hard to make meaningful improvements to the budget for Cranston residents, even as it was made clear that Republicans were going to jam through the fiscally irresponsible proposal.”

“This budget increases spending by an unbelievable $12 million with a huge overreliance on one-time money to fund the plan,” Bucci said. “This lack of funding will come back to haunt taxpayers in the future, a fact about which the new administration seems not to care.”

Council’s legal counsel

Among the budget amendments approved and upheld by the council was a significant pay raise for its legal counsel. The $18,000 increase brings the compensation for the post to $42,000.

The position of legal counsel has since January been filled by Stephen Angell, who drew bipartisan praise from council members during discussion of the pay increase.

Paplauskas and others cited the demands of the legal counsel’s position – which has evolved over time from a largely parliamentarian role to one that involves drafting legislation and performing research on behalf of council members – and said Angell has been an invaluable resource to a young council with several first-term members.

Last week, Hopkins sought to cast Angell in a very different light.

“I’m not a fan,” the mayor said, questioning the pay increase for an attorney “who I don’t think does what he’s supposed to do.” He asserted Angell has overstepped the boundaries of his role, causing “turmoil” and “infighting.” And he suggested a similar dynamic had played out during Angell’s single term as president of the Johnston Town Council in the late 1990s.

“That’s his MO, and I think it’s a terrible appointment for the city of Cranston … The history is there. It’s there,” the mayor said. “He is not there to do what he’s supposed to do, which is to give legal advice. That’s his job; give legal advice to the council. Not to manipulate the council. Not to tell the council what his views are. Not to be political. He’s there to give them legal advice.”

The mayor added: “I think he’s overstepped his boundaries, and I’ll be glad the day that he’s gone … [The council members] know how I feel. They haven’t responded to me yet, but they definitely know.”

Reached Monday, Angell offered the following response: “Due to the nature of the attorney client relationship, I feel that public comment is inappropriate at his time.”

Paplauskas said he first met Angell during the attorney’s work covering the council’s Safety Services & Licensing Committee as an assistant city solicitor under the Fung administration. He defended Angell against the mayor’s criticism.

“I’m sorry the mayor feels that way … Our legal counsel works hard every single day for all members of the council, not just leadership,” he said.

Other topics

* Elaborating on his criticism of some members of the council’s Republican caucus – none of whom he named directly – Hopkins referenced the acronym “RINO,” or “Republican in name only.”

“There’s some RINOs. In name only,” he said. “They got themselves elected, but they’re not there to support the Republican cause. This administration is all about taking care of the taxpayers, taking care of the city of Cranston, doing what’s right for the city. I’m not playing politics. I got elected to take care of the people, to keep their tax base down, to continue what Allan [Fung] had been doing as far as economic development. The proof’s in the pudding.”

Asked how active he plans to be in the 2022 City Council election, when Republicans will seek to hold their 5-4 majority: “Oh, I’ll be actively involved in the council races, actively helping, trying to figure out what’s best for our party and what’s best for the city of Cranston.”

* Hopkins did reference some council members by name, or directly allude to them, during a discussion of the council’s performance and relationship with the administration.

“That’s what their job should be. It should not be playing politics and throwing knives at my back. It should be coming in here and saying, ‘OK, what can we do to make it better?’ I get that from some of them,” he said. “I get that from [citywide Councilwoman Nicole] Renzulli and Reilly, and even Lammis [Vargas] down in Ward 1 … But other ones have been very critical of some of things that we’ve tried to do. Ward 2 [Councilwoman Aniece Germain] in particular. We’ve done more work over there, yet she continues to bash me publicly, saying that I don’t communicate, I don’t have any respect for her.”

* After more than five months on the job, Hopkins said he has “certain long range and short range goals on what to achieve.” City Hall continues to undergo a significant facelift, evident through physical changes to the mayor’s office and other work that has been done.

“It’s cleaner, it’s neater, it’s more welcoming … It’s the people’s building. They should be proud of it,” he said.

City Hall remains on track for a June 1 reopening for normal business, Hopkins said. There will continue to be a reception desk by the main entrance and elevator on the first floor.

* Hopkins said plans to donate ATVs, dirt bikes and other illegal vehicles seized by police through a new ordinance to law enforcement officials in the Dominican Republic’s capital city remain on track.

“When we do catch them, we’re going to confiscate them,” he said. “And then once we get enough of them, we’re going to ship them.”

* Hopkins said his administration continues to work with Pi Patel, owner of the Park Theatre, in hopes to secure a buyer for the property that will retain its use as an arts venue.

“It’s still in the discussion phase, but there are some significant, concrete offers for the facility,” he said.

* As the city prepares to begin enforcement of its new ordinance barring single-use plastic bags for retail checkout on July 1, Hopkins said he believes local businesses have had sufficient time to prepare.

“They’ve had a year. It’s time for them to start making that change … They’ve had plenty of time to get through and make their adjustments.”

Hopkins also said he believes any additional outreach or changes to the process should come through the council.

* Asked if his political goals or aspirations have changed as a result of his time in office, Hopkins said: “I’m going to wake up tomorrow and be mayor. I live one day at a time. I’ve kind of learned that lesson, one day at a time.” The interview with Hopkins on the “Radio Beacon” podcast will be posted this week.

To listen, subscribe for free via Spotify, Apple Podcasts or other podcast platforms, or visit anchor.fm/radio-beacon.

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