Cicilline answers report’s criticism of city finances


U.S. Rep. David Cicilline defended himself Wednesday against a report in which he’s criticized for the way he handled the city’s finances while he was mayor of Providence.

The report acknowledges that the recession and a $50 million cut in state aid played a huge part in the financial woes. The city faces a $110 million structural deficit.

But it also blames Cicilline’s administration for not “honestly” dealing with the situation and for “a dysfunctional financial management system.”

The report does not get into whether there was intent behind what was being done.

The report, titled “Corrective Action Plan to Restore Sound Financial Management,” was commissioned by the City Council and was compiled by fiscal adviser Gary Sasse and internal auditor Matthew Clarkin Jr.

Among the findings of the report:

  • The Cicilline administration drained millions of dollars from the city’s rainy day fund without getting required approval from the City Council.
  • Budget projections were unrealistic.
  • The administration did not provide key information to the council and auditors on a timely basis.
  • Reports submitted to the state were inaccurate.

The report’s authors also said the Cicilline administration could have minimized the financial meltdown in the city.

“There is a lack of pro-active action by the past administration in suggesting a corrective action plan. And I said the financial management system was dysfunctional, and there are plenty of examples in the report,” said Sasse, a former head of the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council.

At least one councilman, Miguel Luna, said he wants a criminal investigation into Cicilline. But other council members have indicated they don’t want to go that far and that the priority should be fixing the system for the future.

“Could everybody have done a little better job? There’s no doubt about it.  But clearly, the buck does stop in the executive branch’s office,” Councilman John Igliozzi said.

Cicilline denies he or his administration tried to paint a rosier picture than reality as he was running for Congress. He said he was open in talking about the city’s problems.

“There are things in that report, which if true, require corrective attention. But be assured of this, if anyone did a transfer that required council approval and didn’t get it, it was not at my direction. If anyone didn’t provide information, it was not at my direction,” Cicilline told NBC 10 News.

The congressman was quick to question Sasse — a former state administration director — who Cicilline said was instrumental in significantly cutting aid to cities and towns.

“Which wrecked the finances of our state and visited upon cities and towns incredibly devastating cuts. The idea that he’s now issued a report after the fact criticizing the way we navigated through these incredibly difficult cuts — more than $50 million — is really galling to me,” Cicilline said.

The report offered a number of recommendations, which the council said it would act on soon.

“Through these recommendations, the council is working towards a more efficient, more accountable and more open government. A government with oversight necessary to ensure that city dollars are spent wisely,” Councilman Seth Yurdin said. “This means not avoiding problems of the past but preventing future issues before they happen.”

Cicilline served as Providence mayor for eight years beginning in 2003.  He was elected to Congress in November.

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