By DANIEL KITTREDGE Mayor Ken Hopkins has vetoed the City Council's unanimously approved ordinance amendment that would create - and codify - a new Diversity Commission, asking the council to "work with me" and restore at least some mayoral appointments
Mayor Ken Hopkins has vetoed the City Council’s unanimously approved ordinance amendment that would create – and codify – a new Diversity Commission, asking the council to “work with me” and restore at least some mayoral appointments that had been removed from the commission through amendments.
The council’s Democrats, meanwhile, have criticized the veto as “unnecessary,” asserting through a statement that the mayor “has ample representation on this [Diversity] Commission and has ample opportunities for collaboration.”
On Tuesday, Council President Chris Paplauskas said he had yet to review the mayor’s veto message regarding the ordinance amendment, given the attention that has been focused on the budget adoption process. He said he anticipates consideration of an override of the veto will occur at the council’s regular monthly meeting, which is scheduled for May 24.
The council unanimously approved the ordinance amendment to create the new Diversity Commission during its meeting April 26. The measure was sponsored by Citywide Councilwoman Jessica Marino, Ward 1 Councilwoman Lammis Vargas and Ward 2 Councilwoman Aniece Germain.
Cranston’s most recent Diversity Commission was created through a resolution in 2019. At that time, the panel was charged with creating a report focused on making the city’s workforce more reflective of an increasingly diverse community. Its work led to the elimination of the EMT-C cardiac certification as a pre-employment requirement for new Fire Department hires, allowing for the certification to be obtained on a post-employment basis as a means of lowering cost barriers.
The new commission would be established on a permanent basis through the city’s ordinances. According to the language of the ordinance amendment, it would be charged with taking steps to “foster engagement, solicit feedback and testimony from residents, stakeholders and police makers from across the city in the context of reviewing the city’s services, programs, hiring and recruiting practices as well as diversity/inclusion policies in order to facilitate implementation of solutions that encourage diversity.” Period reports would be submitted to the mayor and council.
At the April 26 meeting, amendments were made to the composition of the proposed nine-member commission.
Specifically, there would be no direct mayoral appointment, while the council president and minority leader would each appoint two members of the community. Additionally, a representative of the Cranston Senior Enrichment Center was removed from the roster during the amendments, which were proposed by Marino.
The councilwoman and other members of the Democratic caucus said the amendments were made to increase the number of community voices on the new commission. The administration, they said, will be represented by public safety personnel and the city’s personnel director, currently Daniel Parrillo, who would chair the panel.
“I think the mayor still has a say … It really should be focused on the community,” Vargas said April 26.
Citywide Councilwoman Nicole Renzulli and Ward 6 Councilman Matthew Reilly dissented on the amendments during last month’s meeting but supported the ordinance as a whole.
In his veto message, Hopkins wrote: “At the outset, I totally support the concept of a revitalized Diversity Commission in our city. My administration proudly serves as the most diverse in the history of Cranston. My appointments at the department level represent my serious commitment to diversity and the encouragement of a workforce representative of our entire community.” He specifically pointed to the hiring of Franklin Paulino as director economic development and diversity outreach, as well as the “active recruitment of all genders and minorities in our new hires in the police and fire departments.”
His message continues: “That being said, I disapprove this ordinance in its present form and ask that the City Council work with me to modify and approve a revised Diversity Commission ordinance. I was extremely disappointed in the amendments to the initial ordinance that deleted the appointment authority of the mayor to make four public members to the commission and have that right circumvented with four legislative appointments. In addition, the Mayor’s right to appoint a department director and someone from the Cranston Senior Center administrative team was also deleted.”
It adds: “It is inconsistent with the prescribed goals of the Diversity Commission to eliminate the right of the chief executive to appoint any members who could make a positive contribution in their own right while serving as my direct liaison to the commission. If we want to look at city practices and policies the executive must be part of that effort to effectuate change and progress.”
It concludes: “I am not suggesting that the Mayor has to have six appointments to the Diversity Commission. If the Council will work with me, I am confident we can have an effective working group to promote diversity in Cranston.”
In a joint statement, the council’s four Democrats – Marino, Vargas, Germain and Minority Leader John Donegan of Ward 3 – said: “While it is encouraging to hear the Mayor’s words of support for the creation of a properly enacted Diversity Commission in our City, his actions stated otherwise and bring about great discouragement.”
“Stated reasons of his disapproval are said to be a lack of collaboration between city administration, city council and community representatives, and that he is ‘ready to work with all council members in that worthy effort,’” the statement reads. “While these are his words, his action speaks volumes and clearly states otherwise through this unnecessary veto. The fact remains that this ordinance was approved with bipartisan full support creating a Diversity Commission that meets even the stated goals of the Mayor. Furthermore, the Mayor had ample representation and opportunity to contribute to this discussion, including when this discussion occurred at the City Council meeting on April 26, 2021.”
It continues: “We had higher hopes for the Mayor’s support of this initiative and are greatly dismayed at his deliberate action of a veto. Despite our dismay, we remain hopeful that we can move forward for the betterment of our City as exemplified by the bipartisan and unanimous City Council support of this ordinance recognizing the vital role of ordinary citizens on the City of Cranston’s Diversity Commission.”