Debate defines differences

Mayor, Corrente quizzed on what they see for Warwick

By Tessa Roy
Posted 10/25/16

The City Council Chambers were slightly heated on Friday night as a longtime incumbent and a new challenger fought for the hearts of Warwick voters. The Warwick Beacon hosted a debate between Mayor Scott Avedisian, the city's leader for 16

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Debate defines differences

Mayor, Corrente quizzed on what they see for Warwick

Posted

The City Council Chambers were slightly heated on Friday night as a longtime incumbent and a new challenger fought for the hearts of Warwick voters.

The Warwick Beacon hosted a debate between Mayor Scott Avedisian, the city’s leader for 16 years, and opponent Richard Corrente, president of Bankers Mortgage Corp.

Students Matthew Forcino, Matthew Gage and Sean Noonan from Bishop Hendricken, Eddie Cascella, Collin Devine and Katelyn Medeiros from Pilgrim, and Rebecca Carcieri, Zach Colon and Veronica Weaver from Toll Gate High Schools moderated the hour-long debate. The students met at the Beacon newsroom in the weeks before the debate for intensive researching sessions where they came up with questions for the candidates. They also came up with plans for audience questions, some of which were used in Friday’s debate.

The candidates discussed their respective positions on questions regarding the airport, budget, taxes, education and other issues, sometimes agreeing and other times taking swipes.

“I am a working man and a businessman. He is a career politician,” Corrente jabbed in his opening statement. He proudly proclaimed that the first position he ever held was at a Kentucky Fried Chicken, while claiming Avedisian’s was being a political page for Lincoln Chafee.

Avedisian, however, had a different story.

“My first job was for John Howell of the Warwick Beacon,” he said later in the night.

(It’s true, the mayor was a Beacon carrier as a boy.)

But the debate wasn’t focused on the past – Avedisian preferred to detail “signs of continued economic growth,” including progress made at the airport, Apponaug Circulator, and the development of City Centre Warwick.

“Last summer, Hilton Garden Inn had some of the highest occupancy rates in the whole state... That type of revenue is what’s going to help build City Centre as the next economic engine in the city,” he said in response to Corrente’s claim that little has happened at City Centre.

Corrente hammered Avedisian on taxes, saying Warwick’s rates are higher than those of other cities. Over 5,000 taxpayers and over 4,000 businesses have left the city in the last 10 years, he claimed. Avedisian was quick to counter, pointing to a Warwick Post investigation that found Corrente’s claim was incorrect. He claimed Corrente shared the flawed statistic more than 30 times despite knowing it was erroneous. He also disputed the claim that Warwick’s rates are driving taxpayers out, saying the rate in Warwick on a home valued at $200,000 is lower than that of Cranston, Providence and Pawtucket.

Corrente touched on his plan to give tax rebates and to put a two-year moratorium on building permit fees to invigorate construction and bring people into the city. He claimed Avedisian’s plan was to lower the building fee by 1 percent. Avedisian said that was not his plan and that because of state laws regarding building permit fees, Corrente would not be able to carry out his plan.

The two also disagreed on the airport runway agreement, with Avedisian saying the deal was better than before and Corrente calling for a renegotiation. Ironically, the ability to hear all answers the candidates provided on the subject were obstructed by the loud sounds of airplanes passing overhead.

Education has been a contentious topic in all discussions, and this was no different on Friday night. Corrente said he had been to every consolidation hearing and all but one School Committee meeting, saying the mayor has a “hands-off” policy in regards to the School Committee.

“We have given over a billion dollars of our money to the school department and we don’t say ‘spend it wisely.’ We just say ‘spend it,’” he said. “Before I hand over $160 million a year, I’m going to require that they be required to be accountable to the mayor’s office because this mayor will be accountable to the taxpayers and the people who are paying the tab.”

Avedisian again countered, saying that just that week, he’d had numerous conversations on the phone with School Committee member Karen Bachus and email conversations with School Committee candidates David Testa and Danny Hall. He had also publicly endorsed the consolidation committee’s recommendation to delay consolidation implementation for another year.

“There is a lot of communication that goes back and forth. So maybe it’s not a press conference every day talking about what you think you might want to do, [but] we actually get things done,” he said. “There is a lot of cooperation that goes on and a lot of conversations that goes on.”

Teacher contracts were also on the table for discussion. Avedisian said he has met with the Warwick Teacher’s Union and has identified four or five issues that the sides “could really work on” if they had a small group of people analyzing issues and coming up with draft language for a contract.

“One group has agreed and one has not. I’m hopeful I can still persuade the other side to commit to those discussions and agree to that dialogue because it’s incredibly important to have teachers in the system voicing their opinions throughout this process,” he said,

Corrente was more blunt; he claimed the Teacher’s Union was more willing to negotiate than the School Committee and disagreed with the ending of mediation on contracts.

“If you haven’t reached an agreement, you should be having more meetings, not less,” he said, adding that he’d buy lunch for the groups to ensure they met to come up with an agreement.

The rapid-fire session had the candidates talking nationally. Corrente said he used to support Republican nominee Donald Trump as he admired his confidence but will no longer do so following lewd, inflammatory comments Trump made about women and minorities. If he had only two choices other than a write-in, Corrente said, he would vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Avedisian showed no preference for any of the four candidates vying for presidential office, saying only that he was largely disappointed in the tone of the national campaigns.

The candidates ended the debate by saying, in their own words, why they deserved to hold mayoral office. Corrente stayed on his “cut taxes, cut spending” message, detailing his plans and taking one last chance to criticize Avedisian.

“You have a choice on November 8 and it’s easy. Do you want a working man, a businessman, or a career politician?” he said, promising to treat the position of mayor as a full-time commitment should he be elected.

Avedisian took a bit more of a sentimental route, looking back on his time in office, describing his pride in new businesses settling in the city, and saying he hopes voters will let him continue serving in his position.

“Warwick is my home, a place that I love, and the only place I have ever lived,” he said. “It has been my privilege to come to City Hall every day and work with the best and most dedicated staff there is to address the issues that are most important to our residents. It is my hope that on November 8th, you will allow me to continue that in that role,” he said.

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Thecaptain

As previously stated in last Tuesday’s edition of this paper, my prediction of the so called “mayoral debate” was accurate and concise. A sole mayoral debate conducted by children serves no purpose for the residents or the community. If this type of forum was conducted after a number of worthwhile intellectual debates, I would have a different opinion. However, to appease my critics and to give them reason to differ with my opinion I will offer some highlights and substantiated facts of the sham debate forum.

When children are put in a position of a debate that has millions of dollars of taxpayers money on the table, one would have to question the motivation of the forum. I’ll answer that question last, but the fact is when children or any other person conducts this type of forum, they should be required to have actual knowledge of the specifics of the topics. It was crystal clear that this was not the case. When the moderators are unable to identify the incumbent’s attempts to change the subject and not answer the question, or to not be able to identify the challenger’s complete lack of knowledge of subject matter, no useful outcome becomes the result of the waste of time labeled as the “mayoral debate”.

Highlight #1 – The mayor was asked the following, - Given the fact that the city has an unfunded healthcare liability of $300 million with zero dollars in the fund as assets, how can the city continue to give away free lifetime healthcare to its retiree’s?

Mayors answer – We have re-amortized the pension plans realizing considerable savings. We are ½ way thru a 40 year plan.

Corrente’s answer – I will not take away pension benefits from our employees, I will offer a voluntary pension buy out.

The lack of interruption by the moderators proves my point. The pension plans have nothing to do with the separate $300 million completely unfunded healthcare plan. The mayor diverted the question, and Corrente was so unprepared, that he lost his best chance to hammer Avedisian, on the facts, which only proves my point further.

Highlight # 2 - The mayor was asked the following – The recent tax increased raised $4.7 million in revenue. Virtually 100% of that revenue went to raises and bonuses. With virtually every service line item in the budget cut, how is this fair to the taxpayer?

Mayors answer – I’m unaware of any services that have been cut.

Corrente’s answer – The mayor has raised taxes for 16 years. I will cut taxes and cut spending.

Once again, Corrente’s lack of knowledge and preparation was evident, and the moderators, who were unable to get any specifics from either candidate, showed that they were completely unprepared. Corrente lost another opportunity as he could have stated the reduction in the line item for road repair/paving, the continued cuts to the community policing program, the decrease in winter sanding, etc… He showed again that he was completely unfamiliar with any line item in the budget, and could have easily stated that the city council was unable to cut 5 cents from a $298 million dollar budget.

Highlight # 3 – Question to the mayor – The recent fire fighter contract increased the sick day bonus by 50% resulting in an annual increase of $932,500. How do you justify this when the department exceeds its budget by millions every year?

Mayors answer – It takes 6 years for the firefighters to realize the sick pay bonus. They shouldn’t have to be penalized and this is an incentive not to call in sick.

Correte’s answer – The majority of our fireman die of lung cancer. They face carcinogenic agents every day. They need this benefit.

Absolutely the most ridiculous and embarrassing part of the night for all 3 parties. First, the firefighters don’t get the benefit for the first 7 years of employment, (not 6 mayor) however, during that time, they still are allowed to bank 20 days per year until they reach 140 days. Then they start receiving an annual sick pay bonus check for 15 days. BUT, the first 140 that is banked is paid back to them at retirement at their pay rate upon retirement. Again, the exchange shows Avedisians ability to distort and distract, Corrente’s complete lack of knowledge of facts, and the children’s lack of any specific knowledge of city workings and increasing liabilities.

Final highlight as I could go on and on.

Question to Corrente – Mr. Corrente, can you point to 2 line items in the budget that you can cut to save money?

Corrente’s answer – I’ll offer tax incentives. Open a business, get a check. Move to Warwick, get a check.

Mayors rebuttal - I don’t think Mr. Corrente pointed to 2 line items.

Unfortunately the mayor was not held by the moderator to answer the same question.

As an outspoken critic of the mayor, and a taxpayer, I have the right to vigorously question him about his administration policies and the effect on the taxpayer. I also have the right to question any other candidate. How Mr. Corrente’s property tax default and subsequent superior court case against him for trespass and ejection was not brought up is disturbing to me as I believe his financial skills should be rigorously questioned.

Although I give the students credit for participation in the process contrived by John Howell of this paper, there was one thought provoking comment made by Mr. Corrente that went un-noticed. Mr. Corrente attempted to discredit Mayor Avedisian by stating “he is a professional politician who has never held any other job” and that “his first job was “given” to him by Mayor Lincoln Chaffee”. Mayor Avedisian corrected him by stating “ Mr. Corrente is wrong, John Howell “gave” me my first job which was at the Warwick Beacon”. Interesting, - which is my answer to the motivation question.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016
moreofthesame

To Thecaptain,

I'm glad you commented. You seem to have a clear understanding of the many issues confronting the city.

I've met Mr. Corrente and was under whelmed by his lack of specifics. However, after 16 years as Mayor of Warwick, I think it's time for the mayor to find another job. Maybe Mr. Howell will hire him back. The complete lack of public leadership in solving the teachers contract dispute is unacceptable in my view. I understand that the School Committee is an elected body. However, the mayor should have intervened long ago.

I am reluctantly going to vote for Mr. Corrente..... Mayor Avedisian has had ample time to move the city forward. Unfortunately, in my view, he has not.

Perhaps you could be an adviser for Mr. Corrente.....you do seem to have all the answers

Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Thecaptain

moreof the same,

I certainly don't have all of the answers but I do have a lot of them and I do have the ability to recognize trends that are putting the city and its residents in jeopardy, financial, educationally, or otherwise. I do believe Rick is a good person at heart, but unfortunately he has hitched his wagon to the very same people that have ignored the obvious trends, and have done nothing about it. They are his mentors and he openly states that in this forum. I am tired of hearing politicians placate to union membership in an effort to gain favoritism and votes. I would much rather see them call it out for the facts as they stand, substantiate their words with documents, and have the guts enough to hold a real forum where real questions are posed by the people who have the dogs in the fight. You will never see that from either of the candidates.

Remember, you can always use the write in spot on the ballot.

Thursday, October 27, 2016