Council scraps vote to block Elorza’s vaccine mandate

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Providence City Council President John Igliozzi cancelled a planned vote on an ordinance to block Mayor Jorge Elorza’s vaccine mandate Friday night, sending the legislation to committee instead.

Elorza had pledged to veto the ordinance, which was expected to pass but without enough votes to override a veto.

Igliozzi scheduled the emergency Friday night meeting earlier this week, pledging to block Elorza from the mass firing of up to 80 Providence police officers who did not get vaccinated by the deadline for all city workers Friday night.

Elorza said earlier this week he would not be firing unvaccinated employees at the end of the day Friday, and would take next week to review their vaccine attestation forms. He has not said exactly when any remaining unvaccinated officers will be terminated.

The ordinance that Igliozzi introduced does not actually mention Elorza’s vaccine mandate, but would bar the mayor from firing more than 2% of any public safety department or more than 20% of any other department with more than 30 employees, within a six-month period.

Instead of voting on it as planned Friday night, Igliozzi asked that the item be referred to the Finance Committee for consideration.

Reached by phone after the meeting adjourned, Igliozzi said there was “no reason” for an immediate vote, since Elorza opted not to fire the officers en masse Friday night. (Igliozzi had previously said the purpose of Friday’s vote was to prevent the mass firing, not just react to it.)

“There was not a mass termination today, so therefore we didn’t need to have a vote,” Igliozzi said.

Councilwoman Helen Anthony, one of six councilors who said they were planning to vote against the ordinance Friday night, thanked Igliozzi for referring to the item to committee.

“The Finance Committee should invite the city staff to present their plan for rolling out the vaccine mandate,” Anthony said. “We should listen, ask questions and then make a decision about whether an ordinance is really necessary.”

“Instead of stoking conflict, let’s work together,” Anthony added.

Elorza had called Igliozzi’s plan to hold the vote Friday night a “misinformed stunt,” insisting it had been made clear to the council president that the terminations would not be immediate.

“As the council president is aware – but choosing to ignore – every policy implemented by the city sets a process in motion,” Elorza said Wednesday. “The city’s Human Resources Department will review all data submitted by staff next week. While we are willing to help educate employees who need additional information, every Providence employee will be required to get vaccinated.”

As of Thursday, 17% of officers were still unvaccinated, according to city spokesperson Theresa Agonia. That is roughly 76 police officers. An updated number after Friday’s 4:30 p.m. deadline was not immediately available.

The vaccine mandate applies to all city employees, but the focus has been on the possible impact of losing dozens of police officers. Providence experienced a surge in violence in 2020 and 2021, and the department just graduated 49 new officers to bolster the ranks, which dwindle each year due to retirements.

Igliozzi initially said Wednesday he was confident he had a majority of councilors in favor of Friday night’s vote. But it became clear on Friday that the majority was not veto-proof, with at least six councilors planning to vote against it.

An override of Elorza’s promised veto would have required the votes of 10 out of 15 councilors.

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter covering Providence, politics and more for 12 News. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook.

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