Updated: Feb 10
Every 10 years in Providence, the City Council reviews the city’s charter and looks at possible amendments they can add. One of several proposals the Charter Review commission is exploring is to add at-large seats to the City Council. All the changes, if proposed, would be on the ballot for voters to decide on this November. This is one of several topics covered in the latest episode of Ray-ality TV with Providence Ward Two City Councilwoman Helen Anthony.
“I think when you look at governance structure, and I can say this now having almost completed my first term, 15 individual Wards for a city that’s only the size of 191,000 people is unwieldy. So my thought is [to] reduce the number of Wards, I’m not talking about adding at-large seats on top of what we have because it really becomes unwieldy,” Anthony said. “But I’d be interested in pursuing some thought as to reducing the number of Wards and then adding Council People at-large. So that you have people that are answering to the community as a whole in addition to fewer Ward seats.”
Anthony explained more work could get done with fewer Wards, citing her time as a City Council member in Columbia, Missouri that only has six seats and a Mayor. “I’ve seen the benefits of a smaller Council and I’m thinking that we might benefit from a smaller Council here.”
Another idea that is floated for this decade’s charter review is to have an elected School Board. Currently, members of the School Committee in Providence are appointed by the Mayor. Anthony “very much likes” the idea of an elected School Board.
Not only will potential amendments to the City Charter be on the ballot, but so will a number of City Council members. Anthony confirmed she is indeed running for re-election, asking voters for a second term.
A few key issues Anthony is hearing from constituents revolve around city finance’s, education and housing.
“My constituents, and I think many constituents across the city, are very concerned about the fiscal health of our city. Especially with an unfunded pension liability the size of ours which is $1.265 billion. We’re only 26 percent funded. The quality of the public education here, I think we can all agree that it hasn’t been what it should be,” said Anthony. “It’s not what it should be. The city has lost control [of the public school system], the state is now running the school system. That’s difficult for us because I think there’s not enough transparency in terms of the progress, if there’s any that’s being made. And also affordable housing is definitely high on the list, because we just don’t have enough of it.”
The city’s financial situation is weighed down by the city’s unfunded pension liability, hence being a key concern of residents. A number of solutions are brought up time and time again for how to solve the issue. Recently, Mayor Jorge Elorza suggested a $500-million pension obligation bond that voters get to decide on. Anthony, who favors this idea, says, “There’s not a lot of options for us to get out of this pension mess. And I think at this point, the $500 million pension obligation bond is a good start.”
Additionally, Anthony and I spoke about how life in Missouri differs from Rhode Island and what she thinks Rhode Island’s best characteristic is.