By LAURA WEICK The Ward 1 Democratic Committee has endorsed William Foley over incumbent Richard Corley. According to Paul DePetrillo, chairman of the Ward 1 Committee, the committee endorsed Foley because he was open to exploring new ideas. "e;Bill has a
The Ward 1 Democratic Committee has endorsed William Foley over incumbent Richard Corley.
According to Paul DePetrillo, chairman of the Ward 1 Committee, the committee endorsed Foley because he was open to exploring new ideas.
“Bill has a lot of experience in the City of Warwick going back a number of years,” Paul DePetrillo, chairman of the Ward 1 Committee, said. “He has a very fresh approach to how we want to go forward. We are excited to see what we can accomplish in the next couple of years. We are going to have a much easier time getting stuff done in the neighborhood.”
The committee endorsed Corley in 2016 and 2018. DePetrillo denied that the committee endorsed Foley because he supports Mayor Joseph Solomon, whereas Corley voted against the mayor’s firefighters’ contract. The contract was approved by the council by a 5-4 vote.
Corley said the committee told him their endorsement choice was not based on his disagreements with Solomon in particular. He believes that the committee didn’t have anything personally against him either. However, Corley did wonder if the committee was motivated by some other factors.
“I do know that two of the new proposed members of the Ward Committee are firefighters,” Corley said. “I assume it has something to do with the vote on the fire contract. And another committee member is Foley’s wife.”
DePetrillo recalled that Corley did not contact him when the committee was determining whom to endorse. However, Corley said that he called the Ward Committee multiple times and did not hear back until the Ward announced their endorsement of Foley.
“He’s actually not made any attempt to contact me at all during the process,” DePetrillo said. “I just went forward with Foley because he seemed like the perfect guy for the job.
Although Corley is disappointed that he did not receive the endorsement, he still plans to campaign just as he always has – albeit socially distanced due to COVID-19.
“I don’t think that it’s going to hurt my chances,” Corley said. “The only difference is I believe the endorsed candidate is listed first on the ballot, which causes no concern for me because I believe voters know how to read.”
Foley said he honored to earn the endorsement. He said that he had met with the committee chairman to discuss his platform, and he believes his responsiveness and straightforwardness won them over.
“I know the job I do on the City Council if I’m elected would make them proud to endorse me,” Foley said.
Corley and Foley are both running as Democrats, and Democratic voters will choose between them during the Sept. 8 primary election. The winner will challenge Republican candidate Scott Phillips in November.
Corley seeking third term
Incumbent Councilman Richard Corley has been on the City Council since 2017, and is running for his third consecutive term.
“The city is not in the shape I would like it to be, there’s still a lot of work to do,” Corley said.
Corley voted in favor of Mayor Joseph Solomon’s no tax increase budget, but like some of his fellow council members, he voiced concerns regarding revenues. However, he voted for the budget because he felt that the state of emergency created by COVID-19 meant that the City Council had to act quickly.
“I was not a big fan of the budget, I just have a feeling that we’re not going to have a 99 percent collection rate on taxes,” Corley said. “But with coronavirus, predictions are wild guesses, but I don’t think it’s going to go. And if our revenue goes down, well, we’re already in trouble.”
Elaborating on budgets, Corley explained he would be willing to raise taxes if he felt the investment was worth the cost. However, he felt that keeping a flat tax would help the council keep spending under control.
“I want to protect the taxpayers, there’s a balance,” Corley said. “In order for people to be satisfied with our tax rate, they have to feel like they’re getting their money’s worth. So if we provide them with better city service, if our kids get better playgrounds, they’ll feel they’re getting their money’s worth. But it needs to be worth it.”
What does Corley believe is worth the investment? Infrastructure. He said the city’s roads need improvement in terms of function and aesthetics. He described Airport Road as an example of an area that could use a touch-up. Corley also cited ongoing sewer issues for residents near Gov. Francis Farms. The sewer installation project took years to complete, but homeowners in the area received assessments of over $20,000.
Recreation is also important to Corley. Having lived in Warwick his entire life, Corley fondly recalled playing sports against neighbors while growing up. He said that today’s youth do not have the same facilities to do so. He thinks that the city can make multi-use fields. He also thinks creation of these can draw more families to live in Warwick.
Although the school committee handles most matters regarding education, Corley believes the Warwick school system is currently “top heavy,” with too many administrators compared to teachers and other staff. He also explained that 60 percent of the city budget used to go to the school system, but now about 52 percent of it does.
“I think we should have a discussion of whether we should do away with the school committee and get an appointed committee where the mayor picks people,” Corley said. “Right now, the only qualification you need to be on the school committee is to be 18 years old and the most popular person in your district.”
Despite all of these ideas for spending, Corley believes there are areas that the city can cut into or streamline. For example, Corley claimed that city firefighters make an average of $100,000 each year, but the fire department chief makes $110,000 a year, and deputy chiefs make $120,000. Corley does not understand why lower ranking deputy chiefs would make more money than their boss, as this is partially why he did not approve the aforementioned firefighter contract.
“We need to bring spending under control,” Corley said. “We’re going to have to sit down with all of the people under the union contract because it used to be that if you worked in government you had a secure job and good benefits, but you didn’t make a ton of money that you’d make in private business. That’s not true anymore. I know lawyers making less than the garbage men in Warwick.”
Although Foley and Corley are both Democrats, Corley said that their experiences set them apart.
“One difference is that I’ve lived in Ward 1 for the past 30 years,” Corley said. “[Foley] moved into the neighborhood 18 months ago and has not been active in politics for at least 10 years.”
Foley looks to return
Former Ward 6 Councilman William Foley left politics for nearly 15 years after losing to current Ward 6 Councilwoman Donna Travis twice. He’s since moved to Ward 1, and decided to give the City Council another shot.
“I really do believe in public service, and I feel I have a lot to offer,” Foley said. “I have time now to dedicate to it, and some of the same issues I see now were there in 2003.”
One of the biggest hurdles the current City Council faces, according to Foley, is members trying to get reelected instead of trying to pass policy.
“I see items on the agenda that are either fluff pieces or pieces of ‘look good’ legislation,” Foley said. “I want us to be efficient, I want us to be putting matters out there that need to be addressed, and I want to address them in the most efficient, effective way possible.”
Foley supports the no tax-increase budget, saying that although cuts may be required, it would make the city more affordable, especially for vulnerable populations, such as senior citizens.
“20 years ago when I was in Ward 6, the seniors were complaining about the taxes back then,” Foley said. “That’s still a major concern for the senior population in the city, but they only have so many ways to address that in their budget.”
Foley spoke fondly of Warwick Mayor Joseph Solomon, whose “more for less” policies he admires.
“One of the things I really admired about Joe [when he was on City Council] was his financial knowledge,” Foley said of the mayor. “He could find the nickel that could be spent better. If they work, we keep funding them. But if it’s not working, why do we continue funding?”
Foley discussed infrastructure and roads. Additionally, Foley said that while serving on the City Council representing Ward 6, he monitored a sewer project in his ward.
On a city-wide level, Foley supports more school funding. As a retired teacher, he believes the schools committee should be semi-autonomous, but the city should have some say over how money is allocated.
“We need to know why [the school committee] wants to spend the money the way they’re spending and if they can justify it,” Foley said.
As a former union president, Foley sympathizes with those who pursue service in the public sector. Foley’s father was a firefighter in Pawtucket his son on Providence Fire Department and other son was in the military
“I value and appreciate public service on any level, but just like anyone else, we’re all accountable,” Foley said. “We need to keep our accountability for all of them, from police to fire to city council to mayor.”
Regarding the current council, Foley said that while he believes they have good intentions, they should try to focus more on what is important instead of formalities and “fluff.”
“I think they worked well together most of the time, but every now and then, someone wanted to get on their soapbox,” Foley said. “That’s not efficient. If we want people to come to city council meetings, they don’t want it to last four and half hours.”
When asked why he is challenging Corley, Foley said it wasn’t because he had anything against Corley, but because he felt that he would personally be a good fit for the position.
“I’d rather run on what I’m going to do than on what he did or did not do,” Foley said. “And I just think, based on my experience, background and enthusiasm, I can put that to use for Ward 1 and the city.”
Dark horse in the race
Republican Scott Phillips is a dark horse in Ward 1’s race, but he sees a seat on the City Council as a chance for representing his home.
“The elected officials need to be a good soldier for their constituents in Ward 1, not so much the administration,” Phillips said.
Phillips is an accountant, and said that he has worked with budgets and expenses of up to $400 million. He believes his financial background would help him analyze and weigh in on city budgets.
Looking at the 2020-2021 fiscal year’s budget, Phillips said not increasing taxes is good for citizens, but can also come at a cost of jobs and services for citizens.
“I think it’s good that we had a flat budget, but you can argue about how you get there,” Phillips said. “Going and saying to the union ‘you can do this or that.’ The one thing I found interesting about it is last year we had a tax increase but in an election year we have a no tax increase.”
He said that in order to balance saving money while servicing the city, the Council needs to critically consider what can be consolidated: and what can’t.
“From the outside looking in, I haven’t seen the inner workings of the numbers, but I think we need to really look at how the city is structured,” Phillips said. “Is there replication of duties in some of these departments, can we centralize more functions? But you also need to work with the unions, not necessarily hard-line, but talk to them. We can only raise so much revenue.”
Phillips is also passionate about approving education, considering his 3-year-old daughter will soon enter Warwick’s public school system. He thinks that Warwick’s public schools have been better in terms of quality.
“I think years of level funding has gotten us to where we are,” Phillips said. “Now it’s kind of reaping its head that we don’t have enough money and its cutting programs left and right.”
Like many others in Ward 1, Phillips voiced concerns regarding infrastructure, particularly the sewer issues near Gov. Francis as well as general maintenance of roads.
“I think we’re doing a lot of things to fix things currently, but I think we need to look further down the road. Benefit costs eventually become a problem. We’re borrowing money to fix roads. Next thing you know we’ll be borrowing for every day costs. Especially when it comes to benefits and pension cost, I think that will be the biggest challenge in the city.”