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Feisty Taveras tells retirees concessions are better than standing pat

March 3, 2012

If Providence Mayor Angel Taveras once faced questions about whether he was tough enough for the job, those queries have since been put to rest. Taveras drove a final nail into the coffin of those questions today with a feisty performance in addressing almost 500 city retirees at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet.

Here are some of my quick observations:

— Taveras very deliberately and repeatedly thanked city workers for their service. He acknowledged the unfairness of going back on promises made by past administrations. Yet he adopted a no-nonense posture, asserting retirees will lose far more by standing pat than accepting concessions.

— The city wants the retirees to create a steering committee to represent them, by March 25. May 1 is the deadline for a deal. The three-point pitch from City Hall consists of 1) a freeze in pension COLAs; 2) increased healthcare co-shares; and 3) accepting a move from city insurance to Medicare.

— Taveras firmly batted down periodic attempts by a few retirees to interrrupt him. The retirees generally found him blameless for the city’s plight, and seemed supportive of his effort to right the ship. A few nonetheless gave him a hard time about being on the host committee for a fundraiser for Congressman David Cicilline.

— New York-based reporters for Reuters and Dow Jones were in the house, meaning the story will get national exposure.

— Reporters were restricted during the meeting to a “designated media area” on the second floor at Rhodes. A Taveras staffer attributed the situation to Cranston fire officials.

— Taveras and chief of staff Michael D’Amico called monetizing Providence’s water system a non-starter in helping out the city. If it was such a good concept, they said in essence, it would have already happened.

— A common gripe among retirees was that their benefits vary quite a bit, and defy a broad brush approach. Taveras was sympathetic, but said the city has to remain focused on the fiscal challenge.

The way forward from here remains unclear. Thousands more retirees skipped the meeting than attended.So even if those present take up the city on its request to form a steering committee, the way forward is murky at best.

Yet if nothing else, Taveras today formalized another request that Providence retirees be a part of solving the city’s fiscal problems.

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