Retired police officer William Russo, who is running as an independent in the race for Ward 7 councilman, says his 34 years with the Warwick Police Department helped him develop vital skills that he would love to apply as a councilman.
From conflict resolution, crisis management and intervention to the ability to deal with people during emotional and extreme conditions, Russo, a lifelong Warwick resident who lives at 31 Tex Court, has the experience.
Also, he said he would use a mantra he learned at the WPD as a guide: proper planning prevents poor performance. This mantra, he said, would come in handy as an elected official, especially when dealing with taxpayer money.
“You’ve got to make plans in all fiscal matters [and] we need to be more aware of spending,” he said during a recent interview. “If I were elected, I’d use the phrase, ‘Show me the money.’ Where is the funding source? How is this money going to be spent?”
While municipal workers recently signed contracts that show no increase in salaries for three years, Russo would like the city to develop a blueprint for the return of those funds or a plan for municipal employee pay raises when the city is in a fiscal position to do so.
“Where’s the money coming from? How are they going to put money back into the payroll?” Russo said. “There’s been no money. The three unions have had givebacks, but at some point they are going to say, ‘Hey, I have a family. I need this.’”
Other ways he suggested saving taxpayer money is for the City Council and the School Department work more closely together to consolidate purchases, especially when they use similar products.
He also referenced a recent article in the Warwick Beacon that noted 37 percent of all property in Warwick is tax exempt.
“We have to look into the tax exemption of the businesses and non-profits to see if they can help the city in some way,” Russo said.
So, where do his money management skills come from? Prior to being an officer, he worked as a buyer for a men’s furnishing company in Boston, Jordan Marsh. There, he helped manage a multi-million dollar budget.
“Retail is detail,” Russo said. “It’s the same thing with police work – it’s detail – and it’s the same thing with being a councilman. If somebody calls me I’ve got to get the details, the facts, the laws, the rules, the regulations and get back to that person. I intend to return all phone calls, and if I don’t return a phone call the constituent may find me on their front steps knocking on their door.”
Knocking on doors is exactly what he’s been doing, as he is in the process of visiting homes in Ward 7 to introduce or reacquaint himself with the community.
“I talk to people as much as I can,” he said. “Most people are concerned about the future and when this economy is going to turn around.”
Russo said being retired is another one of his accolades, as it allows him the freedom to be able to drop what he’s doing at home to tend to a constituent or local issue.
“I’m physically in the ward every day,” he said. “Should something happen where they need an elected official in an emergency meeting, I can be there within 15 minutes or within the hour. I will be there.”
Additionally, he’s a self-proclaimed “fact-finder.” He also said he’s fair.
“I would not go blindly into a situation without listening to everyone,” said Russo. “I would be open-minded and make a decision on the facts and presentation before me. I think that’s a good foundation for this position.”
Russo, who ran in 2008 and again in 2010, marginally lost each election. In 2008 he lost the seat to Ward 7 Councilman Charles “C.J.” Donovan by 75 votes, and in 2010 he again lost to Donovan by 84 votes.
But because 2012 is a presidential election year, Russo believes he has a better chance this time around, as more people tend to cast votes during presidential election years.
“I really hope that the people get out and vote,” he said.
Also, Russo said it’s a good opportunity for people to vote because they have three options, including himself, Donovan and former Councilman Al Gemma.
“I want the same opportunities that Mr. Donovan and Mr. Gemma have had,” said Russo. “I see what’s being done and I would like to be a part of the management team that has a say in how Warwick is governed. I think I have the skills and the temperament and perseverance for it. I’m running because this is something that I would like to do.”
If elected, he said he’d like to focus on senior and veteran needs, as well as emphasize ethics in government. Of the recent situation involving Ken Naylor, an employee of the Department of Public Works who was caught stealing more than $2,000 worth of material from the city under a “borrowing” policy, he said the outcome might have been different if the people in charge “followed all of the rules and regulations.”
With that said, he thinks now is the perfect time to review any and all policies.
“We never had a policy that would allow me to borrow a police car to go somewhere on a weekend using city gas,” Russo said. “I’m an agent of the City of Warwick and I’m responsible for my actions and for the city. People have to be responsible for their actions.”
While on the topic of policies, Russo has been instrumental on several committees and commissions, including the Charter Review Commission for Schools, the committee that reviewed council member pensions, and helped to recently evaluate the Warwick Sewer Authority.
“I found that policies were out of date, nonexistent and weak,” he said of the Sewer Authority. “There were probably only a few that were applicable this day and age.”
Moreover, Russo sits on the Warwick Comprehensive Plan Committee, which focuses on what citizens want to see in their neighborhoods. Issues at the top of the list are infrastructure improvements and recreation.
Speaking of recreation, he’d like to work with Donna Travis to develop City Park more if elected. Further, he’s the director of a Warwick senior softball league.
“We’ve got some people in their 80s playing,” he said.
Russo graduated from Warwick Veterans Memorial High School in 1961 and earned an associate’s degree in business management at CCRI. He then went on to earn another associate’s degree, but this one in law enforcement from Salve Regina University, as well as a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, also from Salve.
If that’s not enough, he has two master’s degrees, including one in the administration of justice from Salve, and the other in public administration from the University of Rhode Island.
Russo also served in the Air Force for four years and was honorably discharged as an Airman Second Class. He’s been married since 1964 and has one son.