Council president: Mayor Elorza should apologize for ‘slush fund’ comment

Mayor Jorge Elorza and City Council President Luis Aponte meet in the mayor's office. (Photo by Dan McGowan/WPRI)
Mayor Jorge Elorza and City Council President Luis Aponte meet in the mayor's office. (Photo by Dan McGowan/WPRI)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – City Council President Luis Aponte said Mayor Jorge Elorza should apologize for accusing the council of trying to create a “slush fund” as they crafted a spending plan for a proposed $40-million infrastructure bond.

Elorza made the accusation after Aponte and council leadership put forth a spending plan for the bond money that required at least half of the proceeds be equitably distributed for projects “which have been identified by the council member from each ward.” Administration officials have said they want to work in consultation with the council, but have refused to give individual members more control over projects.

“Words mean things,” Aponte said following Thursday’s council meeting. “You’re accusing people of engaging in criminal activity.”

Aponte, Majority Leader Bryan Principe and members of the Council Finance Committee held a press conference earlier this week to announce they were no longer supporting the bond. Even if Providence voters approve the question, money cannot be borrowed if a spending plan isn’t in place by Nov. 8.

Aponte acknowledged he met with the mayor this week, but said it is unlikely a resolution can be reached on a spending plan. He acknowledged the council has been frustrated with the administration for failing to communicate in a timely fashion, noting that the bond proposal was introduced after the budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year was set.

A spokesperson for Elorza refused to comment Thursday night. An interview the mayor had scheduled with a reporter earlier in the day was cancelled when city officials made it clear Elorza would not discuss the bond proposal.

Elorza said Wednesday he was hopeful a deal could still be reached, but nothing materialized before Thursday’s meeting. In an unusual move, no member of the mayor’s staff attended the council meeting. Four of the five members of the Finance Committee were absent.

The administration and the council have spent nearly three months trying to identify infrastructure projects throughout the city, but the two sides did not follow through on a promise to publish a list by the end of September.

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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