Mayor Elorza seeks a more efficient Providence

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Elorza ride along_159929

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – There’s a good chance you write more emails each week than the “one or two” Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza sends. He doesn’t like exchanging pleasantries. He likes getting things done.

It’s why he’s taken to video conferencing – instead of meeting face to face – with some of his top department officials and now requires his senior staff to use ASANA, a project management tool that prioritizes tasks over emails that are often filled with small talk. He said during his inauguration speech that he wants Providence to be a city that “just works” and now he’s out to prove it.

“I hate wasting time,” Elorza told WPRI.com. “I hate wasting anything.”

Elorza’s “get things done” strategy was on full display last Friday night when he joined Providence Police Officer Carla Cavanaugh for the final few hours of her 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift patrolling the city’s South Side. A WPRI.com reporter and Elorza’s press secretary also joined the ride along.

Over the 2 ½ hours Elorza spent riding shotgun with Cavanaugh, there would be only two incidents in which they had to respond to a scene. One call was for a woman being held against her will, but once the police showed up, it appeared to be just a bunch of intoxicated individuals making noise. The other was a report of shots fired at Elmwood Avenue and Dixon Street. No evidence was found.

The “quiet night,” as Cavanaugh described it, allowed Elorza to ask questions and reflect on some of his chief pet peeves from his first three months as mayor – namely garbage, broken sidewalks and of course, potholes.

At the corner of Gordon and Reynolds Avenues, a mattress, two televisions and other debris were scattered in front of a vacant home, one of the city’s many illegal dumping grounds. Elorza jumped out of the car to take a picture and report it to ProvConnex, an app city residents can use to report problems. He admitted he’s not a big fan of the program.

“The mistake with this app is it has too many features,” Elorza said. “It should be simple.”

Just around the block on Potters Avenue, Elorza was out of the police car again, complaining about the shoddy work of a contractor as he snapped a picture of a foot-deep hole in the middle of sidewalk. It was now serving as a mini trash bin. He said his law department is reviewing ways to hold builders accountable when their work is subpar.

“We have to go after these companies,” Elorza said. “We’ve never been aggressive.”

Same goes with potholes. He said the city is finding that some roads that were paved a year ago are already falling apart. He mentioned Olney Street on the East Side as a street “we’re going to have repaved and we’re not going to pay a dime of it.”

“There are so many ways we can improve the delivery of city services,” Elorza said. “I take that real seriously. Our residents pay so much in taxes, they have a right to demand quality city services.”

And they do. A brutal winter led to narrow roads, unplowed streets and complaints from residents. City Council members demanded to know why streets weren’t plowed curb to curb. All told, the city has received hundreds of complaints or questions – not all related to snow – and Elorza now requires his staff to “close the loop” on all of them.

That attention to detail, Elorza says, sends the right message to city residents and ensures “nothing slips through the cracks.”

If all the snow led to frustration from city residents, it also provided relief when it came to crime.

As of March 29, violent crimes such as robberies and assaults were down 2% and property crimes were down 21% compared with the same point in 2014. The city’s first homicide of 2015 occurred five days after Elorza’s ride along.

But Elorza acknowledged that he wants to remain vigilant as the warm weather arrives. He’s met with community leaders to see what kind of activities the city can offer young people to keep them off the streets this summer. When a teenage girl was grazed by a bullet in Mount Hope two weeks ago, he met with her family to let them know the city wanted to help.

And although he wants to be there for every act of violence, he said he knows he can’t do it alone.

“I need allies and I need people who are going to be ready to respond in a way that is going to resonate with kids who are getting into trouble,” Elorza said.

Elorza’s hands-on approach isn’t limited to police ride alongs. When it snowed, he joined public works employees in helping plow roads. He visits two schools each week. When a fire destroyed a building on Kinsley Avenue, firefighters let him climb a ladder to see exactly what they were seeing.

Three months in, Elorza said he’s full of new ideas because “there’s so much work to do and so much that just hasn’t been tried.”

He paused.

“Just hasn’t been done.”Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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