Walking on sunshine?


Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline's effort yesterday to make lemonade out of lemons with the mess in the city's tax office raises continued questions.

According to a news release from City Hall:

“It’s clear from the audit that despite the extraordinary gains we’ve made in modernizing and professionalizing Providence City government, the Tax Collector’s Office has existed as a serious blind spot,” said Mayor Cicilline.  “The audit depicts an office where a single individual exercised extraordinary personal discretion with almost nothing in the way of real professional guidelines, policies or procedures.”

Mayor Cicilline said the forensic audit supports the City’s new Finance Director Bruce Miller’s original conclusion that new leadership is needed in the Tax Collector’s Office.  During a review of the Tax Collector’s Office shortly after Miller’s arrival in the fall of 2007, the Mayor said Miller “had serious concerns about the operation of that office” which ultimately led the Finance Director to ask for Ceprano’s resignation in September of 2008.

Having "a serious blind spot" in a major function of city government would be a lot less significant if this came earlier in Cicilline's tenure, but he's been in office for six years -- enough time, one would hope, to clean house where necessary. Nor does it reflect well on the mayor that this is being addressed only after the case of the problematic $75,000 check written by his now-imprisoned brother.

Cicilline has indeed delivered on some of his pledges of reform and accountability. Yet the excessive costs associated with the current controversy, as described by John Igliozzi, hardly square with the mayor's self-description as someone dedicated to results-oriented government.

As of October, the city had paid $140,000 to KPMG for the audit, according to Igliozzi, who heads the council’s Finance Committee. Southern, the mayor’s spokeswoman, estimated the total cost of the audit at $200,000.

Factoring in the cost of Ceprano’s paid leave and the $130,000 value of the tax debt owned by John Cicilline’s client, Felix Nelson Garcia, the loss of revenue amounts to nearly $500,000, Igliozzi said. “These are expenses that should never have occurred,” he said.

And, as Matt notes, Providence government still has a ways to go toward being truly transparent:

The reality in Providence is that too many of the city's functions are not open and available for public inspection.

  • Can I find on the city's website which homeowner gets a new sidewalk and which City Council person requested it? 
  • Can I find on the city's website which streets get plowed first or get street sweepers coming through more often?  
  • Can I find on the city's website which properties the city owns, who bid on the properties and who each property was sold to?
  • Can I find on the city's website the minutes and/or audio and/or video of City Council meetings and/or all city open meetings?
  • Can I find on the city's website all recorded votes of the City Council and a list of introduced ordinances, which committee they are in and the status of each ordinance?
  • Can I find on the city's website when new employees were hired, in what department and their salary?
  • Can I find on the city's website all of the executive office's employees and their salaries?
  • Can I find on the city's website any voting information such as ward committees, polling precincts, working on election day, receiving passes for being a checker, etc.?
  • Can I find on the city's website all of the city's vehicles, who uses them and whether they are take home vehicles?
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