POLITICS

Political Winds: Hopkins, Farina spar over budget, bag ban delay

By DANIEL A. KITTREDGE
Posted 6/3/20

By DANIEL KITTREDGE The race among the two Republicans seeking to succeed Mayor Allan Fung has heated up in recent days, with the candidates trading statements and verbal barbs over a pair of key issues facing the city. City Council President Michael

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POLITICS

Political Winds: Hopkins, Farina spar over budget, bag ban delay

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The race among the two Republicans seeking to succeed Mayor Allan Fung has heated up in recent days, with the candidates trading statements and verbal barbs over a pair of key issues facing the city.

City Council President Michael Farina and Citywide Councilman Ken Hopkins found themselves on opposite sides of last week’s 5-4 budget adoption vote by the City Council. Farina was among the dissenters, joining three Democrats, while Hopkins voted with the majority, which included three other Republican council members and Democrat Paul McAuley of Ward 2.

Following the vote, Hopkins issued a statement accusing Farina of returning “to his Democratic roots” in voting against the budget, which includes no tax increase as submitted by Mayor Allan Fung.

Farina, who was previously a Democrat, switched parties prior to the 2016 election and has served as president of the GOP-majority council for the last two terms. Fung, who is term limited, has endorsed Hopkins as his successor.

“It looks like Mike Farina’s 2016 Republican transformation was short lived and a pure temporary self-serving political act,” Hopkins said in his statement. “Farina is clearly a Republican in name only and will do anything that he perceives will help his political ambitions.”

It continues: “Mayor Allan Fung and the hard work of his finance team deserved more respect than Farina showed at the budget adoption. Faced with a herculean task in light of the Covid-19 pandemic effects and a challenging economy, the Mayor brought in a no tax increase budget once again. That’s why I voted in favor of the budget.”

Farina – who has questioned the revenue projections on which Fung’s budget plan is based – responded with his own statement criticizing Hopkins, for voting in favor of a budget that “supports $4 million dollars plus in spending cuts to education.” The statement says Hopkins “self-describes himself as the ‘Education Candidate.”

The council unanimously approved a pair of amendments last week to effectively remove approximately $4.1 million in additional state education aid from the budget plans, given uncertainty over whether that funding will ultimately materialize.

“Based on the current financial crisis and the potential for significant cuts in state aid to education, it was not fiscally responsible to vote in the affirmative for this budget without all of the relevant financial facts,” Farina said in his statement. “To be clear, I do not support a tax increase. I want all the facts so that we can make a more informed, accurate, and responsible budget.”

The statement continues: “Ken Hopkins voted for driving the City of Cranston off a fiscal cliff. He accuses me of crossing party lines like that is a bad thing. I don’t see it that way, I don’t see this as a Republican Budget or a Democrat Budget, I see it as a Cranston Budget and I will continue to work tirelessly and responsibly for the people of Cranston regardless of their party affiliation. Period. The people of Cranston have given me a great responsibility, and I am dedicated to putting the people of Cranston first.”

Prior to the budget flap, Hopkins and Farina engaged in a back-and-forth over Hopkins’ proposal to delay implementation of the city’s ban on single-use plastic bags for retail checkout purposes. The measure – which was approved through a veto override on Earth Day last year – is set to take effect July 1.

During the May 26 meeting of the full City Council, Hopkins took issue with his proposal to delay the implementation of the bag ban by one year not appearing on the docket for introduction as new business and referral to the committee level for review. He said he had been led to believe that Farina had blocked the measure’s introduction, and he issued a statement after the media further accusing the council president of doing so.

Hopkins’ statement reads: “Last Monday, May 18th, I announced that I would be proposing an ordinance to extend the original enforcement date of July 1, 2020 for local restaurants and businesses to stop the use of plastic bags. The ordinance would suspend the effective date one year to allow our local businesses to get through this most difficult time. To allow for timely passage, I asked that this proposal be placed on the docket for this evening’s council meeting. The council president, however, ordered that it not be placed on the docket.”

The statement continues: “The council president ignored my pro-business idea that received very favorable feedback from many of our citizens. I see no valid reason why he is trying to derail what many businesses in our city desire. It must be due to election year politics.”

Hopkins said he believes denial of the measure’s introduction represented a violation of the council’s rules. He also said he has documentation to prove he had submitted the proposal in time for the May 26 docket.

“I had every piece of paper documented,” he said during a phone call Monday.

In an email Monday, Farina said the bag ban delay will be introduced during a special June 22 meetings of the full council and immediately referred to the Ordinance Committee for review that night. The council’s regular meeting will then follow, at which point the measure could be adopted.

Farina offered the following explanation for Hopkins’ measure not being introduced on May 26:

“The Ordinance was sent to the Council for review on Tuesday May 27th which was the day of the full council meeting. Which was too late to amend the docket. Council Member Hopkins missed the deadline for new business the week prior. The deadline for new business is Wednesday before the meeting. The docket had already been advertised so under the open meetings act we could have amended the docket prior to Friday but not on Tuesday. Council Member Hopkins made no effort to call me the week prior to discuss an alternate solution or to see if we could work to amend the docket. His accusations are way off base and are only political in nature. There were many options for him to work together and partner to get this before the council but he missed the deadline. Any claims I am trying to stop him are totally untrue. All new business, when submitted properly, MUST go to the full council for review. The Cranston City Council President can not subvert the right of a council member to submit new business, that power does not exist.

“It’s all about the OMA which exists for open and transparent government. The councilman cannot put new ordinances in without adhering to the law and giving the city attorney notice and more importantly the citizens of this city notice. End of story.”

Fung on Monday said he would be supportive of a delay in the bag ban’s implementation, given that he previously opposed and vetoed the measure. He said delaying the July 1 start date is beyond the scope of his authority because it does not involve a life or health safety issue.

Report: Bucci to enter mayoral race

Ian Donnis of The Public’s Radio on Monday reported that Maria Bucci, a former Ward 4 representative on the City Council, is poised to enter the mayoral race as a Democrat.

According to Donnis’ report, Bucci has hired the consulting firm Statecraft Strategies to oversee her campaign.

Bucci’s entry into the race would set up a Democratic primary contest with Citywide Councilman Steve Stycos.

Political Winds is a semi-regular feature focused on the 2020 election campaign. Candidates or those with political news may contact Daniel Kittredge, editor, at 732-3100, ext. 234, or dan@rhodybeat.com.

politics, elections

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