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Elorza Administration’s Top Staff Are All White

Wednesday, April 01, 2015


Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza promised a new era and inclusion, but his top appointments to top level management positions in the administration are all white.

The appointments stand in stark contrast to the City of Providence which is less than 50% white, according to the latest Census data from 2010 -- which should see significant change in the the next count. 

"Where is the diversity at the top Elorza Administration? There's none," said NAACP Providence Branch President Jim Vincent.  "I need to talk with him.  He needs to understand the politics, or he won't be reelected."

Elorza recently appointed Russell Knight to head up the Department of Public Works, and East Sider Wendy Nilsson to the Parks Departments (amidst questions as to her qualifications).  Elorza's top two aides -- Chief of Staff Tony Simon and Chief Operating Officer and former opponent-turned-supporter Brett Smiley -- make over $250,000 combined.  

In addition, Elorza elected to keep on schools superintendent Susan Lusi, Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare, Chief of Police Hugh Clements, Acting Fire Chief Clarence Cunha, Director of Operations Alan Sepe, Director of Finance Larry Mancini -- all white.  

The administration does include diversity among the ranks, including State Representative Grace Diaz in the 6th highest paid position on the Mayor's payroll as Senior Advisor for Community Outreach at $55,000.   

Several boards and commissions have diversity in leadership.  Keith Oliveira is President of the Providence School Board, Dr. Jeffrey Williams was recently appointed head of the Licensing Board. However, board positions are for the most part part time, and paid a small stipend -- if at all.  

Despite the lack of diversity in his uppermost ranks, the Mayor said he is committed to furthering diversity in the administration. 

"The Elorza administration is committed to supporting and capitalizing on the strengths of our diverse City, as demonstrated by the wide diversity of race, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation in the Mayor’s senior staff, department directors, and board and commission appointments," said Elorza press secretary Evan England.

Impact of Social Equity 

Jim Vincent

Last month, State Representative Ray Hull (D-6, Providence, North Providence) reached out to Elorza, calling on him to establish a director-level liaison with the city’s African-American community to serve as a point of contact and address concerns of racial disparities and unequal treatment.

Hull issued the call "in response to a continuing series of national incidents demonstrating troubling treatment of communities of color by local police departments and a new report by the Rhode Island chapter of the ACLU which found significant differences in how black Rhode Islanders are treated from childhood to adulthood."

“The City of Providence has a unique opportunity to get in front of this situation and send a strong message that it is taking steps to confront racism and discrimination, while ensuring fair treatment for all its citizens,” said Hull. “I have seen people of color, and in particular African-American citizens, feel intimidated and be treated poorly by authority figures, including the police, and I have witnessed the insensitivity some members of the department have shown in dealing with the city’s African-American community.”

Just what does a lack of diversity mean for the city -- and the state?

On March 31, Tanvi Misra wrote for Atlantic Cities wrote "Another Reason to Promote Social Equity in U.S Metros: Job Growth."

Misra wrote, "In an upcoming issue of Urban Studies, Chris Benner and Manuel Pastor report that cities that tend to be more socially inclusive also show longer periods of economic growth—defined here as three or more years of uninterrupted growth in employment numbers. Analyzing 184 urban areas between 1990 and 2011, the researchers found that, among several factors linked with growth spells, the "largest and most significant predictor" was a metro's income inequality."

(And in other recent data, Providence County's income inequality ranked among the highest in the country). 

As for equality in city hall, Vincent offered his perspective.  

"David Cicilline brought in a black Communications Director, Karen Southern of Channel 12, Cybil Bailey in HR, and Seth Mitchell for Head of Neighborhood Services," said Vincent of the former Providence Mayor.  "Taveras had Angela Romans as an education advisor, but now there's no one in Jorge's inner circle.  Cicilline hired more blacks in high ranking positions than Taveras and Elorza combined."

Vincent had called for more diversity in the Raimondo administration leadership back in February

"She's doing better," said Vincent of the new Rhode Island Governor. "But even she should do better."


Related Slideshow: 10 Questions Elorza Has to Answer as Mayor



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Department staffing?

Economic Development. Chief of Staff. Policy Director. Who will Elorza place in these key posts? Will former opponent Brett Smiley play a role? Will Elorza keep on any key Taveras staffers?

There are multiple questions in this category, and Elorza should be making moves shortly as to what his administration will look like.  Will former opponent Michael Solomon be part of the team?  Look to see. 

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Budget deficit?

Opponent Buddy Cianci famously said during the campaign that if there was a budget surplus in the City of Providence, he'd drop out of the race.

Councilman Terry Hassett told GoLocal that a close watch on the budget would be necessary in the coming year, as a "deficit exists." So how will Elorza tackle the fiscal challenge?  He's talked about looking at city government department by department.  Where will he make cuts if necessary?  Or will Providence see taxes being raised?

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Police force?

The Providence Police Department recently graduated a new class of officers from its academy -- but council members to community leaders are pointing out the numbers are still below even minimum staffing levels.

Will Elorza look to push through a new academy when he takes office?And how will he handle issues surrounding the department -- which following the most recent graduation, was at the center of intense public scrutiny?

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Car Tax Changes?

Elorza said during the campaign that he wants to raise the car tax exemption from where it stands at $1,000 back to where it once was at $6,000.  

So how's he going to make this happen?  He teamed with Raimondo at the Olneyville press conference to pledge that if elected they would work in tandem make it possible.  Will Providence see more aid from the state to fill the tax revenue hole?  

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Tax Breaks?

Tax stabilization agreements (TSAs) between developers and the City of Providence came under close scrutiny in 2014, as a report from City Auditor Matt Clarkin showed that the city wasn't collecting nearly what it was owed on the properties that cut special tax deals with the city in the name of development and job creation.  

One council member -- Sabina Matos -- proposed putting a freeze on new TSAs until a full review was done, and a standardized process was put in place.  Will Elorza continue to use TSAs as a tool in the economic toolbox? 

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195 development?

The 195 land, while in the hands of the State -- and 195 Commission, rests squarely in Providence, and as such, its redevelopment will have a profound impact on the economic future of the city.  

How active will Elorza be in the process of courting businesses to put their stake in the ground and be part of the urban renewal process in Providence? Lots of work is already underway with the roads and infrastructure -- how soon will shovels be the ground for tenants?

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Nonprofit relations?

As part of his administration, Mayor Angel Taveras ushered through historic PILOT (payment-lieu-of-taxes) agreements with the city's nonprofits, in order to obtain some fiscal relief from the tax-exempt institutions at t time when the city desperately needed it.  

Will Mayor Elorza look to go back to the colleges, universities, and hospitals should the city find itself in difficult circumstances once again? 

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Elorza's jobs plan as proposed during the campaign included such components a supporting entrepreneurs, women, and minority-owned businesses, and promoting a mentoring program with the city's colleges and universities.  

One of Elorza's proposals included the doubling of Providence's exports over the next five years.  How is Elorza going to make this happen?  He mentioned used cars and design exports during debates on the campaign trail.  What policy moves will Elorza unveil to make this prophecy a reality?  And where will Providence see the jobs?

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School success?

Central to Elorza's education plan is the concept of community schools, so that the buildings are utilized long after the school day for increased learning and recreation opportunities for the surrounding neighborhoods.

Elorza has called for less emphasis on standardized learning, and has proposed an investment in technology in the classrooms.  Where will Elorza find the money to achieve these goals -- and will they translate into academic success?

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One Providence?

In the next two weeks, Elorza will be making staffing decisions that will set the tone for the new administration.  Elorza won overwhelmingly on the East Side -- will he cull his talent from the 02906, or will he reach out to leaders across the city to comprise an administration reflective of the entire city's population?  How will Elorza achieve the vision of "One Providence?"


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