New East Providence Mayor James Briden believes the Budget Commission on which he will begin serving Thursday is helping the city “reinvent ourselves.”
“The status quo is not working,” Briden said last week in a conference room at his Pawtucket law firm a few days after the new City Council elected him mayor. “The model is somewhat functionally obsolete.”
“They (Budget Commission) are a great resource,” he said of the volunteers who have been put in place in East Providence by the state. “They can make decisions without worrying about political backlash.”
This situation, which turns a year old on Dec. 20, does not mean that Briden will let the budget board run roughshod over the city without him standing up for what he sees are “the best interests of East Providence.”
“I won’t defer to them, and I don’t think the Budget Commission expects us to defer to them all the time,” he said. “At the same time, the commission needs to be efficient without undermining the operation of the city.”
But the budget board is providing invaluable expertise in dealing with systemic problems that exist in many municipal governments, not just E.P., he said. Many corporations pay big bucks for this type of consultation.
“The Budget Commission is helping us achieve centralized management of the city as a whole,” he said. “Without centralized management, the City Council and School Committee will bump into each other.”
Briden, who was East Providence solicitor a few years ago, likes to talk as much about his own economics training as his legal education and experience. He holds a degree in economics from Boston College.
Economists like to see businesses get the same output with less input or more output with the same input, he said.
“We need to think like an economist -- with well-defined values,” he said.
Briden sees his overall role as mayor, especially as a member of the Budget Commission, as “doing what’s best for the city.” And that means having the same objectives as the Budget Commission.
“We’re going to be in much better shape when they leave,” he said. “But we need to be open to change. We can’t see change as threatening.”
“This process is not a painless one,” Briden said. “But what we’re experiencing is really necessary for growth. They’re laying a foundation for growth.”
“We need to make decisions based on data, not politics,” he said. “That’s what the commission is doing.”
City government also must be as open and transparent as possible, Briden said. That goes hand in hand with being financially stable.
“Our role should not be viewed as what we can do as politicians,” he said. “City councilors are the trustees of the city’s image.”
Indeed, Briden said, the role of the mayor has probably expanded beyond what the charter mandates. As mayor, he’ll operate as close as possible to what the charter envisions for that post.
Briden, who lives in Rumford and represents Ward 1 specifically, is high on East Providence. There is a lot that is very good about the city, he said.
“We have a great workforce, and we’re in a great location,” he said. “And we have reasonable property taxes with a sold infrastructure and a blueprint for economic growth that is already in place, particularly for the waterfront.”
RI Department of Revenue director Rosemary Booth Gallogly said at a recent Budget Commission meeting that the city is actually seen as a model in some areas because of what has gone on over the last year.
Briden couldn’t agree more. And there is more good to come, he believes, as the city reinvents itself.