Members of the Garden City Alliance (GCA), led by Founder Pauline DeRosa, recently met with and interviewed candidates vying for the Ward 6 City Council seat on their stances, thoughts and concerns …
Members of the Garden City Alliance (GCA), led by Founder Pauline DeRosa, recently met with and interviewed candidates vying for the Ward 6 City Council seat on their stances, thoughts and concerns regarding different issues of interest to constituents before The Herald’s candidate forum, That was held Tuesday night at Cranston’s Central Library and is available for viewing on the Herald’s website.
The GCA was formed in February of 2017 when Garden City applied for a redevelopment district for the shopping center that would have allowed for expanded projects in the center. Despite opposition to the change, the redevelopment plans were passed by the council and the alliance was formed to tackle some of the other issues in the pipeline for the local area and surrounding communities.
All four candidates, Republican Anthony Melillo, Democrat Dan Wall, Independent Marc Bochner and Independent Robert Lancia were all interviewed and asked versions of the same questions.
The GCA asked the candidates questions regarding concerns like traffic patterns resulting form new construction, communication with administration and constituents, fiscal responsibility and issues regarding the increased problem of homelessness.
The Herald was given a copy of the questions asked of and answers given by the candidates and had condensed them for our readers and the voters of Ward 6.
GCA: How do you plan to communicate with the mayor and his staff?
— Wall: Believes in direct communication and plans to call and email the mayor and his staff much like he did while on the Cranston School Committee, feeling that face-to-face communication along with calls and emails are the best paths in order to work together.
—Melillo: Said he had long-standing relationships, friendships and political alliances with not only the mayor, but also the people in his administration. His friendship with the mayor dates back to their Johnston days and Anthony’s work with City Food Services. He said he feels these open lines of communication with the Mayor and his Administration will be an asset to the residents of Ward 6.
— Bochner: Thinks communication with the mayor is of the utmost importance. He said he had already done a podcast with Mayor Hopkins and considered that the start of his relationship with him. Marc added that he would have no problems going to the mayor to address Ward 6 issues because as a public servant he is there to address the concerns of his constituents.
—Lancia: He brought up his experience while serving as a State Representative from 2015 to 2018 serving District 16. While in the State House he said he would meet with then Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello to discuss matters that concerned his district. Following the same model Lancia said he would “communicate with the mayor on a weekly basis.”
GCA: What are your ideas/plans to meet/inform your constituents on what the issues the City Council is involved with?
—Bochner: “Meeting with constituents on a monthly basis, possibly at a local business” would be good. He added “I would have an open line of communication where you could message me.” Marc sees his role as being “a voice of the people.” In his profession he always thinks an open line of communication is essential and he practices that with meetings, etc. in his own business.
—Lancia: Lancia said he liked Council Ferri’s email newsletters to constituents and would try to follow his example with a “monthly newsletter to keep people informed and making sure they have my phone number.” He added he would continue as he did when he was a state rep to “walk the neighborhood” to speak with neighbors about their issues. In addition, he suggested having perhaps “monthly coffee meetings with constituents.”
—Melillo: Described himself as “a great communicator.” For the past 7 months, during his 1st term on the Cranston School Committee for Ward 6, he went to every PTO meeting, basketball and football games and other functions for the six schools he represents in Ward 6. He talked about his experience working in the administration of former Cranston Mayor Traficante, citing examples of how on Saturdays they held “coffee with cops” which he felt was very effective. Anthony said he “will consider having monthly meetings with constituents at the library.” He suggested that in these meetings he’d like to include a City-Wide.
—Wall: Referred to his Teacher’s Union experience where it was imperative that both sides worked together to achieve the best outcome for the teachers and students. He will use Council Member at Large Robert Ferri and Ward 3 Councilman John Donegan’s method of emailing Council updates to residents. He’s thinking of holding community forums as he did on the school committee. Dan said 2-way communication helps to understand people’s issues. He also said he will not shy away from going out into the community to meet people one on one.
GCA: There are several traffic/parking/construction issues in Ward 6. For our Garden City Neighborhood, we already have two to three large building expansions planned which will affect our neighborhood. How would you address these concerns?
—Lancia on Garden City School: In discussing the issue of traffic and parking and how it will affect residents with the new Garden City Elementary School, Bob said the lack of land is a challenge, and said no one would want to eliminate the sport fields to resolve parking. He suggested that in the initial planning they “should have built a structure for parking cars.”
—Melillo on Garden City School: He said that he too has concerns about parking and the bus drop-off in the front and vehicle drop-off on the side of the building. He stated, “Safety services must be implemented by having police officers at the school for the first three weeks.” He also suggested they may see a need to make 1-way traffic patterns with specified times during the school year. When the issue of speeding in the area was brought up, he suggested a need for more speed limit signage because if there is signage and a person is stopped for speeding, fines can be enforced.
—Wall on Garden City School: Traffic and parking for the new school is on Dan’s radar. He said he has been hearing a fair amount from residents. He plans to talk to Superintendent of Schools Jeannine Nota-Masse about the situation and traffic impact on the neighborhood. With the school parking lot having only 20 parking spaces & 2 ADA spots and a staff of 90 there will have to be street parking. While Dan acknowledged it is legal to park on the streets,
—Bochner on Garden City School: He knows the area very well as he was brought up there and lives in Garden City. He stressed the need for full transparency, believing parking and traffic issues “wasn’t thought out…it should have been addressed when planning” but he said “I honestly don’t have an answer. It’s going to be hectic.” Marc added that it is legal to park on both sides of the streets in the area but the allocated spaces for staff won’t be enough, adding “the big thing” is how emergency vehicles, like fire trucks are going to be able to turn onto streets if cars are parked on both sides of a street.
—Lancia on Hillside: After being told several years ago by the Planning Department that the problem would be addressed after all construction was completed on the Sockanosset corridor, Lancia said as a City Councilman “I would represent the constituents on this issue.” When questioned about installing a traffic light that owners Carpionato & WS Development oppose as they have said it would hurt their businesses, Bob said he would ask them to “prove to me it would be better.” He acknowledged that if the companies did not respond to the problem, it would be hard to address.
—Melillo on Hillside: Agreed that Hillside Road at Sockanosset has traffic issues and believes “a traffic signal needs to be there.” He added that the GCC management and the Carpionato Group would need to be engaged in the process. He believes it’s the only solution and if he were on the City Council, he would bring it up to the Planning Board.
— Wall on Hillside: Commenting on the issue and ongoing frustration with the traffic debacle of Hillside Road and Sockanosset, Dan would like to make it an actual agenda item for the Council and pursue the problem with the Traffic Dept. He feels it’s a “playing catch up” situation with “prevention better than the cure.” He promises not to let this issue be dismissed and will continue to travel down the road several times during the oncoming days as a fact gathering mission.
—Bochner on Hillside: As a City Council member, he would meet with the people who could make the change, while looking at the data. Marc firmly believes data can help resolve problems while always trying to do “everything you” can “to make an easier life.” He was told that the owners of the two shopping centers, Carpionato Corporation and WS Development might oppose a traffic light as it would hurt their businesses. Marc suggested getting the company representatives together with proper city officials to come to a resolution.
GCA: 3. Fiscal responsibility: Candidates almost always talk about "fiscal responsibility" and how they are the "fiscal responsible" candidate. Can you speak specifically on 1 or 2 areas where you see a need for fiscal responsibility and how do you plan to accomplish this?
—Melillo: As a Republican, Anthony believes in smaller government. He believes by looking at the little things, one can find a way to save taxpayer money which can lead to bigger savings as time goes on. He mentioned the economic boom of the $1 million tax revenue from Top Golf. Anthony spoke about clean energy, citing a Portsmouth NH school using wood burning stoves and buying wood pellets from North-Eastern Tree Service which saved them $5,000 a month in heating oil.
—Bochner: Marc started the conversation about fiscal responsibility by saying “if I ran my business the way government does, I would be out of business.” He was very specific on several issues, including bid waivers & accountable bid procedures, renegotiating vendor contracts, and possibly sharing services with other cities as a cost saving measure. While discussing contracts and vendors, Marc suggested creating a hotline that would be public to report overages for citizens to see. He cited, as an example, the school budget being $15 million over budget and stated, “there is overspending in schools.”. Marc believes accountable bid procedures are necessary while proposing renegotiating existing vendor contracts.
—Wall: Dan feels his experience with the Cranston school budget has him well versed in creating, modifying, and reading budgets. As chair of the School Committee, he helped oversee a budget of $11 million plus. He said: “I had to make decisions” because once the Committee got their allocated monies, “that was it.” He had to go through the budget line by line, and it was a “tedious” procedure but had to be done to ensure the schools were getting the funds they needed. He says he will bring this set of skills as Ward 6’s representative when going over the mayor’s budget in the Spring to ensure Ward 6’s needs are represented and protected.
—Lancia: Concerning the question of fiscal responsibility and how he would be a “fiscally responsible” Councilman, Lancia said he supported doing an audit on spending issues that concern the city and school budgets. He brought up the example of Johnston Mayor Polisena, Jr and how he took over the city’s school budget when it appeared there was going to be a serious budget overrun. As for Garden City Elementary overruns “an audit should have been done of the school budget. A lot of funding went to the administrative items and not the school or the kids.” He went on to say that “when Mayor Hopkins became the mayor, he inherited a Category 5 fiscal emergency” that Cranston citizens did not know about.
The Homeless and the Pastore Complex
GCA: 4. Homeless situation: As homeless numbers statewide are expected to increase this fall and winter, one solution that continues to be proposed is pallet housing. Cities and towns are saying ‘no’ to locating the housing – or villages – in their communities and Cranston’s state facility – Pastore Center – may be the location of choice. How do you feel about this – how will you represent the interests of the people of Cranston? How do you feel about very low-income affordable housing developments?
—Bochner: In discussing the homeless issue and possible pallet housing by the State on the grounds of the Pastore Center, Marc thinks the main issue of homelessness is a multi-disciplinary problem where the state, city, local businesses, and religious organizations need to come together to help resolve the issues. Housing alone, he believes, will not solve the problem. It is an issue he believes that needs “tools, mentorship and services” that hopefully “will inspire change.” Marc said you “can’t just put people somewhere and expect” the problem “will go away.”
—Wall: When asked about the homeless situation and the possible pallet housing on the state’s Pastore Complex Dan answered he thought this issue was bigger than a political issue. He said believes “Cranston is doing more than its share. He brought up the Harrington Hall situation with sex offenders and how it’s affecting Garden City and Garden Hills residents. Dan believes the Pastore Complex/pallet housing proposal was presented to the city in a very bad way, saying it’s “a very serious issue that needs to be discussed.” When asked if he felt a City Council person should be designated to be a liaison between the state and the city because the complex is owned by the state but situated in Cranston Dan was in total agreement. He feels the solution to the problem is a quality-of-life issue, not a partisan issue. He is in opposition to the potential for pallet housing at the Pastore Center.
—Melillo: When questioned about the homeless situation and about a possible “village” of 150 pallet housing on the grounds of the Pastore Center, he feels it would be a “detriment to the city.” He explained, that once in a meeting about homeless housing someone said to him what would have happened if Mary and Joesph were turned away from the inn? Anthony reminded the questioner that they were turned away because there was “no room in the inn.” He feels the same way about the pallet housing; Cranston already has Harrington Hall and now, as he said in the interview, “our inn is full.”
—Lancia: He feels first that Cranston needs some strong voices at the state level, saying “yes we need Ombudsmen.” Cranston State Senators Hanna Gallo and Frank Lombardi “should speak to the governor, that is their job.” Lancia spoke about a plan he proposed when he was a state rep to build a facility in a less populated area to help the homeless with the services they needed and programs for educating and training, The plan never came to fruition. He went on to talk about Crossroads which was “supposed to be the answer for Cranston’s homeless problem” but is not working. “Homeless need 24/7 programing with wrap around services and 24/7 supervision with dedicated services.”
Demands of City Council
GCA: How will you handle the heavy demands of serving on the city council as you may be called upon to serve on one or more committees?
—Lancia: Lancia laughed at the question saying, “we are 24/7 people – my wife is always with me, further adding “we are very involved with all ethnic communities.” “We are early to rise and go late into the evening.” As a state rep, he was always up by 7 and to bed by 11 or 12 at night, and stated he and his wife are real partners in civic projects, always on the go.
—Wall: When asked about the demands of being a City Council person – the Council meetings, committee assignments, etc. Dan laughed a bit and said in all his eight years of being on the School Committee he may have missed a total of two or three meetings and in his four years as Chair he missed only 1 meeting. But, he added, in all that time he attended every single contract meeting.
—Melillo: When asked how he would handle the time commitment of being a Council member, attending Council meeting and committee assignments, Anthony replied “easy…I have a very supportive family” and again cited all the time he has spent as a School Committee member and all the events he has attended during his seven months tenure. He said he believes “in being out there; being visible to the community.”
—Bochner: Marc said, jokingly, he “would need a lot of coffee for that” when talking about the time demands of being a City Council member. He said he has “systemized” his own business in such a way that he can step away from his business giving him the option to make his own schedule. He can step away and plan accordingly “at any time” allowing him to attend the monthly City Council and committee meetings.
The Cranston Herald would like to thank the members of the Garden City Alliance for taking the time to share their interviews with the readers of Cranston through our paper. Those who wish to learn more about the positions of the Ward 6 candidates can view the forum video on our website or pick up next week’s issue for a synopsis of the event.