Mayor Taveras sued over Providence hiring law

Providence City Hall

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A group of activists and three members of the City Council filed suit against Mayor Angel Taveras and his economic development director Tuesday, claiming they have failed to enforce a local law that requires businesses that receive financial support from the city to give hiring preference to Providence residents.

Taveras, a Democrat running for governor, and James Bennett are the only two defendants named in the suit, filed by Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE), a nonprofit that claims its mission is to organize “low-income families in communities of color for social, economic and political justice.”

On the books since 1985, Providence’s “First Source” ordinance requires “any business having more than four employees and receiving more than $25,000 in aid from the city in a calendar year” to consider hiring city residents before making jobs available to those who live outside of the city. Developers receiving tax stabilization agreements are also required to comply with the law.

The suit argues that the city has not enforced the law and in some cases, has failed to inform businesses they are required to comply with the ordinance. A public records request filed by DARE showed just 41 of the 1,110 jobs created by First Source employers were filled by First Source referrals.

The plaintiffs, including council members Kevin Jackson, Luis Aponte and Sabina Matos, are asking a judge to:

  • require the city better publicize its First Source law;
  • appoint an independent monitor to supervise compliance with the law;
  • and place a temporary freeze on new tax stabilization agreements or small business loans through the Providence Economic Development Partnership.

Jackson and Aponte were part of a similar lawsuit against the city that found that the Providence was not complying with the First Source ordinance.

Meaghan McCabe, spokeswoman for Taveras, said the city had not been served with the lawsuit and could not comment on its contents. But McCabe said the city has taken steps to enforce the First Source law.

“Putting Providence residents back to work is among Mayor Taveras’ highest priorities. Early in his administration, the mayor appointed a study commission to examine enforcement of the First Source ordinance, which led to the hiring of Providence’s first-ever First Source director,” McCabe said. “The director has managed outreach to Providence businesses and actively works toward bringing qualifying businesses into compliance with the ordinance.”

Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan

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