PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The chair of the Providence Public Building Authority has been accused of making “racially offensive” remarks to a Black city employee, prompting the City Council to consider removing him from his position.
A letter sent to the City Council by Emmanuel Echevarria, the city’s chief human resources officer, said Stanley Weiss made comments that “are objectively considered to be offensive on the basis of race.”
Echevarria called the comments “disturbing and egregious,” but did not disclose what Weiss allegedly said. He said multiple witnesses reported the incident to human resources, which investigated the complaint and forwarded its findings to the City Council on July 27.
The council scheduled an unusual special meeting on Tuesday to “bring charges” against Weiss — essentially, Providence’s version of impeachment — under a provision of the city charter that allows the council to remove an appointee from their position. The letter from Echevarria is publicly posted on the agenda.
Reached by phone, Weiss denied making a racist remark and said he would not be resigning from his position. He accused Mayor Jorge Elorza of trying to get rid of him because he questioned the use of an infrastructure bond for a project in Waterplace Park.
“I am a nuisance to him,” Weiss said, referring to the mayor. “He wants to get rid of me, and the people in the city, the planning department. … I am tough with them, I dress them down.”
Weiss said the comment in question was made towards Demo Roberts, the newly appointed director of public property.
“They hired a new Black person, a wonderful guy,” Weiss said. “He was having trouble getting himself oriented, and he said, ‘I need room to breathe.'” Weiss said he responded, “Look, we’re not going to stand on your head.”
Reached by phone, Roberts declined to comment on the incident.
Elorza’s office would not share more details on what exactly Weiss is accused of saying, though they provided a letter from Elorza to Weiss in which he asked him to resign for making “racially insensitive remarks.”
Council President John Igliozzi also declined to comment on the allegations, other than to say the evidence would come out in a public hearing on the charges, which will be scheduled at a later date. (Weiss will have the opportunity to defend himself at that hearing.)
The Providence Home Rule Charter says the council must schedule a public hearing at least 30 days of bringing charges against an appointee. Removing the person requires a two-thirds vote of the council.
Weiss, 78, was originally appointed to the building authority in 1993 by then-Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci, and most recently reappointed by Elorza to a term that ends in 2023. The position is unpaid.
While Weiss said he’s ready to retire, he said he would not resign over the allegations of racism.
“I certainly will not step down, not with a cloud over me,” Weiss said.
Weiss said he is being represented by former R.I. Supreme Court Justice Robert Flanders.
It’s unclear exactly who was in the room at the time of the alleged offensive remarks.
Echevarria said in his letter that the comment by Weiss was made at a “public meeting of the PPBA,” which might have meant it was documented in some way. But board member Ron Crosson and general counsel Mal Salvadore both told Target 12 that was incorrect.
Crosson said his understanding was that Weiss made the comments while attending a meeting of administration officials. Elorza’s office did not immediately clarify in what setting the comments were made.
“The city of Providence has a duty to defend its employees from hostile working environments and address any behaviors that patently offensive and discriminatory,” Echevarria said in concluding his letter to the council. “It is under that charge and responsibility that I am documenting this incident so the City Council can take whichever course of action it seems appropriate.”