Last Tuesday was the WBNA's 3rd Annual Conversation With Our Elected Officials. This event has become an invaluable opportunity for constituents to learn about the work that is being done, both locally in our neighborhood, and on a broader City and State wide level by our legislators, and for our elected officials to hear from us.
A very big thank you to our elected officials for sharing with us on Tuesday, March 1:
Mayor Jorge Elorza, City of Providence
Councilor Mary Kay Harris, Ward 11
Councilor Bryan Principe, Ward 13
Representative John J. Lombardi, District 8
Representative Anastasia Williams, District 9
Senator Paul V. Jabour, District 5
Senator Harold Metts, District 6
A special thank you to Pastor Kx. Num Yig Hawj of the Providence Hmong Church for hosting this event.
The WBNA formatted this year's Conversation to include brief opening remarks from our legislators, followed by each giving a brief presentation on one of the following topics: Transportation, Economic Development and Equity, Education, and Sustainability. WBNA moderators then asked a prepared question to each guest; questions included legislative successes, neighborhood impact, quality of life issues both local and statewide, and collaborations between city and state officials and citizens. Lastly, audience members had an opportunity to ask questions and share about issues that mattered to them.
MAYOR JORGE ELORZA
Mayor Jorge Elorza began by describing the optimistic direction of the City of Providence, and that our efforts are being noticed nationwide as Bloomberg named PVD one of the best 35 cities in the world for innovation as well as Providence receiving other nationwide accolades promoting the city as a special place.
The Mayor cited multiple initiatives in economic development in Providence, including the growth of City partnerships with small businesses, the EveryHome program which aims to fix 500-600 abandoned properties over the next 6 years with contracts to neighborhood minority and woman owned businesses, and a new Work Force Development program with Providence Career and Technical Academy and Community College of RI that is in the works.
Mayor Elorza reported that Downtown has a half billion dollars worth of projects currently underway, but that this development is also being pushed to our neighborhoods – through the Neighborhood Tax Stabilization program.
Resolving a back log of 3000 calls to City Hall from residents and improving "customer service" was something Mayor Elorza was especially proud of achieving. He also announced that the introduction of the City's new 3-1-1 System would further help mitigate improve service to residents.
Councilor Bryan Principe
Councilor Bryan Principe shared his initiatives in infrastructure improvements, such as the 200 million dollar South Street Landing Project and a $1,000,000 investment in the neighborhood's Luongo Square Enhancement Project which, Principe added, represents a true demonstration of working together and persistence.
Along with infrastructure investments, Principe talked about moves that are reducing costs for the City, including its purchase of LED street lamps from National Grid that are slated to save Providence 15 million dollars over 10 years, and making Pension Payments on time which results in considerable cost savings.
Because Councilor Principe has been a neighborhood leader for good local education, he was asked to speak about the topic. He laid out a number of positive things happening in our neighborhood schools: Asa Messer's partnership with Community MusicWorks to augment music education for elementary school students, Carl Lauro's new Dual Language Immersion Program and an Outdoor Class Room with DownCity Design; and West Broadway Middle School's achievement of having the highest attendance in the city. Our public schools are great, he concluded, and the west side is fortunate that it is the only neighborhood with PreK–12 options – all because of the consistent advocacy of neighbors and legislators over many years (many of whom were on stage with him and in the audience).
Councilor Mary Kay Harris
Councilor Mary Kay Harris talked about the importance of safety and environment in her work, and that her strengths are partnering and networking to make neighborhoods safe. She has helped clean up blighted lots on Broad and Harrison Streets, and is encouraging and helping neighbors to start a Southside Neighborhood Association.
Councilor Harris shared her work on SANKOFA Apartments, supporting the development of affordable housing for the City's West End. She was asked how she can help keep neighbors in the middle class and bring more neighbors into the middle class because that topic is very important to her. She remains focused on helping the middle class in Wards 10, 11, 9 and 8, as well as encouraging people who have been out of work for a while to get retrained.
Representative John J. Lombardi
Representative John J. Lombardi shared his history in the neighborhood and, in particular, his relationship with the WBNA, having been involved in helping the organization since its inception.
Representative Lombardi highlighted his work to help the WBNA raise $15M over the years for the neighborhood via state, federal, private and bond issue funds. A former educator himself, Lombardi also recently introduced the Dyslexia Bill in the State House which supports training teachers to identify this issue with kindness, instead of labeling students with this disorder.
On the topic of transportation, Lombardi expressed his support of the 6/10 Connector Project, and especially of an approach that would help reconnect our west side neighborhoods and make us One City. He stated that this project could have positive economic benefits to our community including job creation, and that it would support SWELL living in our neighborhood and the City at large.
Senator Paul V. Jabour
Senator Paul V. Jabour stated his pride in serving a community that is truly engaged, and that the intensity of this community effort supports him in raising his level of responsibility for his constituents.
Senator Jabour shared about his legislative work in sustainability, particularly on the Green Package which takes a strict look at oceans and farming in the southern part of the state. In speaking about infrastructure, he said much more dire than bridges and roads is the condition of dams in our state and suggested that neighbors visit the DEM website to learn more.
On a local level, Senator Jabour has been a lead on the WBNA's work to secure funding and a viable long term use for the Cranston Street Armory. He restated his commitment to his work with state leaders and community members on preserving this key, iconic and historic building, and meets regularly with the WBNA on its status.
The Senator then made a presentation of a $7,500 legislative grant to WBNA Executive Director Kari Lang to help the WBNA continue the good work it is doing
Senator Harold Metts
Senator Harold Metts explained that all the legislation he introduces comes from discussion with his constituents – that it doesn't come from him alone, but as a collaborative process with his constituents working with him. He shared that his priorities are economic development and quality education, and believes in developing strong curriculum to help students enter the working world with good skills. He also expressed his deep commitment to equal access to housing.
Senator Metts also gave a sense of who he was as a person, something the WBNA wanted our elected officials to share with us. He is not only a Senator, but has been an educator, a coach, a Sunday School teacher, a volunteer at a Meals program, and an active member of the community where he lives and works.
Representative Anastasia Williams
Representative Anastasia Williams shared her work around increasing diversity in the judicial system and expanding opportunities for people of color more broadly. Currently Representative Williams is working on judicial appointments to reflect the diversity of the community, stating that only 4 out of 85 Judges are persons of color. She would like to increase appointments of minorities.
*Representative Williams did not have the opportunity to present for as much time as her colleagues due to a late hearing that kept her at the State House. We appreciate that Rep Williams came as soon as she was able.
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The evening ended with moderated questions from neighbors about topics that concerned them, which included gun related issues; the disproportionate discipline of black and Native American kids (stopping the police search of minors, expunging records for non-violent crimes); the Providence Place Mall and its future; surface Parking in the city, using the Mall’s parking garage and the creation of Providence Parking Authority; school transportation concerns (busing versus walking); and traffic congestion and permitting traffic guards to give tickets.
It was a great evening and we thank all who participated in making it happen.