By John Florez, candidate, Newport city Council
Along with six other Newport residents, I was appointed by the City Council to the Finance Review Committee, which was tasked with finding cost-saving and revenue-generating measures that would benefit our community. After months of research, we came up with a plethora of recommendations. The major takeaway I gleaned from this experience was that a multitude of measures exist that city management could take to improve Newport's financial viability – it’s a matter of putting them into action in an economical manner. I am running for Council-at-Large because I have the leadership and background to bring about the real change that Newport deserves. I would like to present an outline to show how this objective could be achieved, and what you can expect from my role as your Councilman.
- Establish the Finance Review Committee on a Permanent Basis. This committee is vital to the long-term financial success of Newport. The Council could appoint a committee made up of community leaders who have financial expertise for two-year terms. The findings of this committee will be free from political bias and ultimately should be in the best interest of the entire community.
- Full Review of City Processes. As a first order of business and with the support of the Council, a review of all major city processes, including Administration, School, Police, Fire, Finance, Waterworks, and Zoning would be proposed. The purpose of this review process will be to ensure that every department is being run with optimal efficiency. Here's why I think this will be effective: each department contains its own unique architecture. The problem, however, is that all entities – whether they're businesses, government or otherwise – must evolve and grow. I'm a firm believer that when an entity ceases to grow, it will die. The infrastructure and architecture for these departments in many cases have not necessarily been subjected to this type of review, and thus the relevancy of their composition may not be ideal for our current needs. It would be the equivalent of an old skyscraper not being properly maintained over time; the building will deteriorate, and given enough time, it would cease to stand. Let me give you another example of why this process is so important: our water rate increase can be directly attributed to the fact that there were projects in the Waterworks Department that were neglected prior to 2002. This neglect subjected the City to enter a Consent Agreement with the EPA and the State requiring a much more aggressive timeline for completing projects, hence causing annual rate hikes. Because the Water & Sewer is an Enterprise Fund, separate from City Finances, it must raise its rates accordingly to cover any and all expenses the Enterprise Fund may incur.
- Had there been an oversight committee in place, this increase would have been spread out over a longer period of time, improvement projects would have been completed, and rate increases would have been less substantial over a longer period of time. Implementing a Department Review Committee, similar to the FRC, this group of individuals could be appointed by the Council for two-year terms. The Committee should be comprised of business, residential and staff representatives. (Given the comprehensive nature of this initiative, it wouldn't be realistic to establish a time frame for these findings until the committee is put in place and we are better able to assess the viability of the task at hand.)
- Transparency and Communication with the Council, City Manager and other Departments. It's imperative that transparency and good communication exist between all of these entities. These departments will ultimately be accountable to the Manager and Council, which will be accountable to citizens of Newport.
- Communication Improvement between the Business & Residential Neighborhoods with City Hall & Zoning. A liaison group could serve as the communication piece between local businesses and residents with City Hall & Zoning Department. Newport needs to be known as a business-friendly city, while respecting our neighborhoods. This group will help ensure that the needs of both the business community and residential neighborhoods are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
- Civility. No matter which candidate the voters elect, in order for the process to work, Council members need to be civil towards one another. Not doing so will hurt the citizens of this community and our collective goal of achieving progress for the City’s future.
- Casino. Under the proper conditions, this is a measure that I could potentially support – but let me be very clear about three specific conditions I would expect. First, a Host Community Agreement must be created, guaranteeing the City of Newport $1.5 million in annual revenues. Second, this agreement would make it clear that Newport residents would fill the 200 new jobs that would be added as a result of the casino. And third, regardless of how much of the $40 million budget is spent, the City of Newport would still receive its revenue. If these terms cannot be met, I would not put my support behind this measure.
Finally, I’d like to tell you a little more about my unique background, which I believe would benefit the Council. As the CEO and Founder of Drupal Connect – one of the fastest-growing technology companies in Rhode Island – I know what it takes to make a payroll, review budgets, and implement creative and innovative strategies that help a business grow and remain competitive. We make it a point to foster in our employees a strong commitment to giving back to our community. We have held coat drives, organized weekly mentoring of children at the PellSchool, and we sponsor the annual Drupal Connect Block Party to benefit Boys Town of New England, an organization where I proudly serve as a board member. I'm also passionate about my family and my community. My wife Karen and I moved to Newport nine years ago; after taking a day trip here, we fell in love with this city, and within a very short time bought a house. A few years ago, we started fostering two amazing children: Nefi, who is now 6, and his sister Martha, who is 9. In March, we were finally able to officially adopt them, and they've truly enriched our lives in ways we never could have imagined. During my free time, I love playing tennis, and I'm a member of the Hall of Fame. I enjoy going to the many wonderful restaurants this great city has to offer, and am strongly committed to making the already great city of Newport even greater.
This November, I ask each of you for your support and your vote to be your next new Councilor-at-Large.