By DANIEL KITTREDGE The calendar has turned to 2021, but the echoes of 2020 will not easily fade. The frequently contentious tone of last year's Republican mayoral primary reemerged in recent days, with Michael Farina, the former president of the City
The calendar has turned to 2021, but the echoes of 2020 will not easily fade.
The frequently contentious tone of last year’s Republican mayoral primary reemerged in recent days, with Michael Farina, the former president of the City Council, accusing his former rival, new Mayor Ken Hopkins, of “wasteful spending” in the early days of his administration.
“Let’s all keep a watchful eye on the new administration and remind them they promised to be fiscally responsible and hold our tax dollars sacred,” the letter reads.
Hopkins’s response? Farina’s charges, he says, are “totally inaccurate,” the product of “sour grapes” from Hopkins’s landslide win in the September GOP primary.
“I just refer to him as a spoiled brat,” Hopkins said of Farina.
The dust-up stems from a letter to the editor Farina submitted to the Herald and other media outlets, in which he asserts the Hopkins administration “has spent approximately $225K in unbudgeted expenses after 10 days in office.”
That figure includes new costs Farina says are tied to Hopkins’s proposals to change some administrative positions and salaries; the cost of new plans to station a police officer in City Hall; and an estimate of the cost to provide vehicles for Hopkins and his top aide.
During an interview Monday, Hopkins rejected each of Farina’s charges. In terms of the proposed staffing and salary changes – which are outlined in two separate ordinances that were due to go before the council’s Finance Committee on Jan. 21 – he reiterated prior comments from Anthony Moretti, his director of administration, that the changes will have a net zero budgetary impact.
“The total cost is the exact same” as under Allan Fung’s administration, he said.
In his letter, Farina put the cost of the staffing and salary changes at $25,000. In a follow-up email after being asked for more specifics, he accused Hopkins of “playing a shell game with payroll.”
“Elected leaders are supposed to do more with less, this salary spend seems like he is doing less spending more,” he wrote.
In terms of the vehicles, Hopkins said both he and Moretti have been given use of used vehicles through the Police Department, something he said has been common practice over the course of multiple administrations.
Hopkins said Fung chose to put the “30000” license plate given to the city’s mayor on his personal vehicle, which at times gave the impression Fung did not use any city vehicles. The new mayor said he also plans to continue using his personal vehicle frequently.
Hopkins said he had been using a 2015 Chevy Malibu with roughly 62,000 miles on it during the first two weeks, but he was recently given a four-wheel drive Chevy Tahoe with roughly 42,000 miles on it. Moretti, he said, has been given use of a 2015 Ford Explorer with more than 90,000 miles on it.
Farina, in his letter, suggested that taxpayer dollars are being used to purchase a “brand new Lincoln Nautilus” for the mayor. Combined with a vehicle for Moretti’s use, he wrote: “Call that $80K of our tax dollars spent on two cars that were not in the budget.”
Asked about the basis for that claim, Farina wrote in the follow-up email: “I have a credible source that told me he was buying a Lincoln.”
Farina’s letter was also critical of the new administration’s plans to station a full-time police officer at City Hall. That officer, he asserted, is intended to serve as the mayor’s “full time personal driver.”
Hopkins on Monday said the officer is being stationed at City Hall as part of planned security upgrades, including the creation of a new substation. That decision was made based on a review conducted by the Police Department and Chief of Police Col. Michael Winquist, he said.
Hopkins said as part of the substation setup, visitors to City Hall will be directed to the front entrance to check in. Employees will be given access cards for the building, he said. He likened the changes to what has been instituted at Cranston Public Schools’ administrative offices in the Briggs building.
“We just have to change the way it’s done because of all the craziness that’s going on,” the mayor said.
The officer stationed at City Hall, Hopkins said, will continue to have the “same exact duties he had at the police station,” including the processing of gun permits.
The mayor called Farina’s assertion that the officer will serve as a full-time driver “crazy.” He said while he continues to drive himself during the day, he will be accompanied by another member of City Hall staff while driving at night – be it Moretti, another member of the mayor’s office, or the officer.
“I’m doing the same thing that Allan did,” he said.
In his letter to the editor, Farina wrote: “This money could have gone to more noble causes than raises, cars and a driver especially as our city faces tremendous financial pressure as we come out of this pandemic. It could have gone to education, public rent assistance or to be held for future expenses as we come out of the pandemic.”
Elsewhere during Monday’s interview, Hopkins said the situation has stabilized “a little bit” after COVID-19 positive tests and contact tracing affected multiple members of his administrative staff. He said he had a meeting schedule later this week regarding the setup of local vaccination stations.
“Now, we’re just getting on with the business,” he said.
During the initial weeks of his administration, Hopkins pointed to the start of planned improvements to Rolfe Square and the relocation of some offices, including the planned move of the school department’s athletics office to the Pastore Youth Center.
Hopkins also said he has made arrangements for $5,000 of his annual salary – a total of $20,000 over four years – to go toward the creation of a new health and workout room at Bain Middle School.
“That’ll be in my wife’s memory,” he said.