Cicilline: I didn’t tell my staff to bypass City Council

Congressman David Cicilline says as mayor he never told anyone in his administration to bypass the City Council by transferring money out of Providence’s reserve funds without approval, as alleged in a report set for release this morning.

“I did not, nor would I ever direct anyone who worked for me, to bypass any required Council approval,” Cicilline said Tuesday during a half-hour interview with in his Pawtucket district office. Asked if that meant such an action – if taken – happened without his approval, he replied: “That is correct.”

A summary of the report by former Carcieri cabinet member Gary Sasse and Internal Auditor Matt Clarkin was obtained Tuesday by It alleges “dysfunctional financial management” by the Cicilline administration “severely worsened” Providence’s problems amid a severe recession and deep cuts in state aid.

Cicilline declined to comment on those charges before the report’s formal release but said he would be “happy” to discuss it once he has had a chance to read it.

According to the report, Providence failed to complete its annual financial audit by Dec. 31 – as required by state and local law – “for the first time in more than a decade” last year.

Cicilline said he did not know why that happened. “That’s a question for the director of administration, who I think is responsible for shepherding that,” he said. He also said it was unclear to him which four required budget documents referred to in the report were apparently not submitted to the council as required by law.

During the interview, Cicilline reiterated the defense of his mayoralty he has been offering since Mayor Angel Taveras declared a “Category 5” financial emergency in Providence last month, arguing the city’s problems stemmed primarily from the deep recession and a 19% drop in state aid since 2008.

“Were it not for the more than $50 million that was cut by the state, we would not have even had a challenge,” he said.

Asked whether city officials failed to properly manage its municipal accounts, Cicilline said: “I suspect there is always room for improvement in the oversight of financial controls in any city government, and I’m sure Providence is no exception.”

But, he continued, “I don’t think that it changes the cause of the challenges that Providence faces. You could have all the finest controls and oversight in the world – it is not going to make up for a $50 million cut in revenue, it’s not going to make up for a really deep recession and declining revenues, it’s not going to make up for the loss of federal stimulus money,” he added.

Taveras has been faced with a larger-than-expected budget shortfall because of lower revenue projections and a changing set of economic circumstances, Cicilline said, emphasizing that he gave Taveras’ team the same set of financial documents possessed by his own administration at the time of the transition.

But Cicilline declined to offer any critique of Taveras and his handling of the situation. “You’ll never find me being critical of my successor,” he said. “I think that we all need to support the new mayor.”

This is the first of two articles based on my interview with Congressman Cicilline. Tomorrow, find out why he sees an opportunity for Democrats in the budget passed last week by House Republicans – and what surprises him about Washington.

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