Mayor Joseph Solomon is reshaping city government, making board and commission appointments and, in the case of the Warwick Sewer Authority, bringing back a former councilman to the surprise of some.
With little notice, Solomon dismissed sewer authority chair Peter Ginaitt and Board of Public Safety chair Leslie Baxter. The terms of Ginaitt and Baxter expired in January, and while the two were prepared to continue serving the city, the mayor, as is his right, chose Tarah Provencal to serve on the three-member Board of Public Safety and former Ward 5 Councilman Carlo Pisaturo to take Ginaitt’s slot on the Sewer Authority.
In December, Baxter contacted Solomon’s chief of staff, William DePasquale, to indicate her interest in being reappointed. On Jan. 23, she received an email from DePasquale that the meeting she had run the night before was her last. Baxter served on the board for 16 years, never missing a meeting – even showing up for a meeting days after the delivery of her daughter.
She is an unaffiliated voter and recognizes the mayor’s authority to make changes. Soon after the election, the mayor relieved assistant city solicitor Diana Pearson, who served as the board’s legal counsel. Baxter said she learned of that change from then acting chief of police Brad Connor in an email. Also, at the time of Pearson’s departure, City Solicitor Peter Ruggiero left his city job. The mayor has not named his successor.
“It’s his right to name someone,” Baxter said of the mayor. “I kind of figured I was going. It was so abrupt,” she said.
Baxter is excited for Rick Rathbun, who Solomon picked to succeed Stephen McCartney to head the department.
“He’s going to do a great job,” she said.
Knowing that his term would be expiring, Ginaitt said Wednesday he wrote the mayor a letter in December and followed up with “multiple calls” to brief Solomon on the authority and the challenges it faces that went unanswered. He said his requests to meet with the mayor were never answered. He said it was apparent to him that “there was going to be no cooperative relationship.”
Ginaitt, who served on the authority for 10 years, said he learned he wouldn’t be reappointed when the docket for Monday’s City Council meeting was posted with Pisaturo’s appointment.
Ginaitt said it is the “mayor’s prerogative” to appoint who he wants, but he had hoped to outline the work of the agency.
Reached Wednesday afternoon, Solomon said “things change over time” and that he is looking to build his team. He said Pisaturo is knowledgeable about construction and finances.
Solomon cited deteriorating sewer infrastructure as a major concern, an issue Ginaitt also cited and one that he wanted to brief the mayor on.
Pisaturo, who as councilman introduced a $130 million sewer bond, the largest in the city’s history, looks forward to serving on the authority.
“I have a lot of experience,” he said, “and there are a lot of problems there.”
Thinking back to the 1990s and the 12 years he served on the council, Pisaturo said his reasoning for the $130 million bond was that voters citywide would be unlikely to approve bonds neighborhood-by-neighborhood. On top of his list for the extension of sewers were the coastal areas of Warwick, especially Bayside.
Bayside – made up of Riverview, Longmeadow and Highland Beach – is still without sewers, although the authority is close to soliciting bids. The area is rich in Native American artifacts, which has delayed the project to provide service to 900 homes and prompted the authority to turn to directional drilling to avoid sensitive sites.
Pisaturo said he understands concerns over the artifacts but notes water lines are four feet down. As the ground has been dug up to install them, he questioned, why couldn’t the sewer lines take the same route?
From what he’s seen, Pisaturo said sewer authority director Janine Burke-Wells “is doing a good job and she has it under control.”
Ironically, it was Ginaitt who as a state representative pushed for enabling legislation to put Pisaturo’s $130 million bond on the election ballot. Pisaturo said he did not know he would be replacing Ginaitt on the board and, in fact, would have liked him to stay.
The big issue facing the authority, said Pisaturo, is the high cost of assessments that are now running upwards of $20,000 per household. He favors the city picking up the cost of repaving roads following sewer installation, as backed by Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur, provided the road needed repaving at the outset of the project. He thinks the authority should pick up the cost if the roads have been recently repaved. If the city repaved the roads, it is estimated assessments costs could be trimmed by 20 percent.
Asked if Pisaturo would be the board’s chair, Solomon said that’s up to the board.
Thomas McGovern succeeds Baxter as chair of the Board of Public Safety.