City Council infighting continues over federal block grant spending plan

Councilwoman Sabina Matos (left) and Council President David Salvatore (right).

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Providence City Council’s Committee on Urban Redevelopment, Renewal and Planning (URRP) usually has one job each year: to approve a spending plan for the city’s annual pot of federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds.

That won’t be the case this year.

City Council President David Salvatore took the unusual step this month of sending Mayor Jorge Elorza’s proposed $4.8-million CDBG budget to the Council’s Committee on Claims and Pending Suits. Unlike the URRP Committee, the majority of the five-member Claims Committee supported Salvatore’s rise to council president in December.

The decision has drawn criticism from Councilwoman Sabina Matos, Salvatore’s chief rival on the city’s 15-member, all-Democratic legislative body. Matos is the chairwoman of the URRP Committee and served as acting president between May and December.

Matos told Eyewitness News there was no reason for Salvatore to break from “council norms,” suggesting the URRP Committee have done “an excellent job for the last three years.”

“But once again, after pledging to unite this council, Salvatore has chosen actions to further divide it,” Matos said.

Billy Kepner, a spokesperson for the council, declined to explain why Salvatore sent the CDBG proposal to the Claims Committee. He said the “decision of what committee to send the budget is at the discretion of the president of the City Council.”

There is nothing in the City Council rules or the Providence Home Rule Charter that requires any of the City Council’s standing committees to review specific aspects of city business. But the committees have historically reviewed the same types of issues each year.

The Finance Committee oversees the city budget process. The Ordinance Committees vets policy or zoning changes that come in the form of ordinances. The Claims Committee handles monetary settlements, like when a person’s car is damaged by a pothole in the city. The City Property Committee typically only meets when the city is pursuing the sale or purchase of property. The Public Works Committee discusses signage changes as well as snow removal. The Rules Committee sets the council’s governing rules.  And URRP typically oversees the CDBG budget process.

The council also has several special committees focusing on school department oversight, women and healthy communities, state legislation, municipal oversight and homelessness.

Because committee assignments typically come at the beginning of the council’s four-year term, most of the current committees are comprised of a majority of members who supported Councilman Luis Aponte to become president in 2015. (Once a committee member is appointed, the only way to remove them during the term is if they resign or are forced from office.)

When Matos became acting president after Aponte stepped down from the leadership post last May, the committee structures remained largely intact. The team Salvatore assembled when he became president in December kept majorities on the Finance and Ordinance Committees, but the URRP Committee remained chaired by Matos.

The Claims Committee has not yet scheduled a meeting on the proposed CDBG budget.

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Dan McGowan ( covers politics, education and the city of Providence for Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan