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Providence City Council launches public outreach campaign

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A day after dozens of Providence residents and business owners questioned the transparency of a proposed redevelopment plan west of downtown, City Council President David Salvatore pledged to improve the way the council informs the public about happenings in city government.

Salvatore, a Democrat who represents the Elmhurst and Wanskuck neighborhoods that comprise Ward 14, said the Be Heard PVD campaign is designed to broaden outreach and notification to residents about public hearings held by the council.

The council has already launched Twitter and Facebook accounts to promote the campaign, but Salvatore said he is also hoping to better use the council’s website and advertising to inform the public about meetings.

“The City Council holds several public hearings each year, but often I only hear from residents after the fact,” Salvatore said. “They frequently tell me they were not notified or didn’t know it was happening.  Although the city follows all state and city statutes to notify the public about hearings, we can do better, and that is what Be Heard PVD is about.”

State law requires the city to post public hearing notices in The Providence Journal, but it’s not uncommon for council meetings to be attended by few members of the public. At a hearing held on the city’s $749-million budget last month, the only person to testify was a member of Mayor Jorge Elorza’s staff.

The City Council chambers was filled with more 50 members of the public Tuesday evening to discuss a proposal to redevelop 233 acres of land along the Woonasquatucket River, but many residents complained that they were unaware of the plan until recently. City officials said they’ve been preparing the plan for 18 months.

The City Council Committee on Urban Redevelopment, Renewal and Planning (URRP) voted to table the proposal until the planning department conducts more public outreach.

Salvatore said he’s hopeful other departments in city government follow the council’s lead.

“We live in the 21st century, yet we are using 20th-century communication outlets to notify residents about these hearings,” he said. “Our constituents deserve to be heard, and they cannot do that if they aren’t aware they have the chance.”

Salvatore said constituents who are unable to attend a public hearing can provide written testimony by mail or email to city clerk Lori Hagen at lhagen@providenceri.gov.

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Dan McGowan (dmcgowan@wpri.com) covers politics and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan

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