$37K later, taxpayer-funded study of Providence fire dept. nowhere to be found

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Ten months after hiring an outside consultant to review staffing in the city’s fire department, the Providence City Council is refusing to release the much-anticipated findings from the report.

Records reviewed by Eyewitness News show Massachusetts-based MMA Consulting Group was paid $37,600 on June 22, but the report remains in “draft form,” according to the city’s law department.

The solicitor’s office denied a public records request last Friday, citing a provision in state law that exempts “preliminary drafts, notes, impressions, memoranda, working papers, and work products” from being made public unless they have been submitted as documents in a public meeting.

The council hired MMA Consulting to study the department last December, months after the Elorza administration restructured firefighter staffing from four platoons to three as part of an attempt to find cost savings. The union filed suit against the city, and a Superior Court judge ordered the two sides to grievance arbitration.

As a war of words developed between the union and the mayor, City Council President Luis Aponte said he wanted MMA Consulting to study the department’s staffing configuration and produce safety findings and recommendations that could be used as the city negotiated its next fire contract.

MMA Consulting was also used to study the department under former Mayor David Cicilline.

“This report will offer a vital understanding of how the department should be structured and staffed, giving the administration and the union an independent framework to guide negotiations going forward,” Aponte said at the time.

In a press release, the council said preliminary results would be available by February. Several members of the City Council were briefed on the findings of the draft report in May, but a final report has not been released to the public.

Last month the city and the union announced a deal that would allow firefighters to return to working a four-platoon shift schedule in exchange for a reduction in minimum manning, the contractually mandated number of workers that must be on the job at all times. The minimum manning number will drop from 94 firefighters to 88.

The city has said it believes it can save $15 million from the agreement, but the City Council has not scheduled a hearing to vet the deal. A fiscal note was submitted to the council on Friday and the Finance Committee could schedule a meeting as soon as this week.

At Thursday’s City Council meeting, Councilman Sam Zurier will introduce a resolution asking for Council President Luis Aponte to provide an “explanation of the reasons for the delay in producing the final report” as well as an update concerning the submission date for the report.

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