Screen Shot 2024-06-21 at 4.56.19 AM

UPDATED: Cranston Mayor Hopkins takes City Council to court TODAY to clarify spending powers

Mayor Kenneth J. Hopkins had announced on June 7th that, at his instruction, a Superior Court legal action has been filed on his behalf to seek judicial clarification over the powers of the chief executive and city council to expend funds from the city’s allocation of funds received from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (“ARPA”). RINewsToday has learned that that court action will happen this FRIDAY, June 21st at 9:30am.

“Throughout the latest budget process, the majority on the city council argued that they had unilateral authority to spend ARPA funds without any input or consent from the mayor as chief executive of the city,” said Hopkins.  “Our legal department tried to explain our view that such action exceeded their authority under our charter and form of government.”

“While I do not take this action lightly, I sincerely believe it is an important policy issue.” He said, “I believe we need judicial review of the steps, the majority on the city council took in the amendment and adoption of the operating and capital budgets beginning July 1st.”

Mayor Hopkins said the timing of the court action was important as the new fiscal year approaches in a few weeks. He explained that city administration lawyers during the budget process explained how the chief executive had to be a partner with the City Council in decision making relating to the expenditure of ARPA funds.

“Since 1963 with the adoption of the Home Rule Charter, we have had a strong chief executive form of government.” He stated, “as a former member of the City Council I recognize the important role the legislative branch has under our Charter.” 

“The actions by the council majority exceeded their authority and I am seeking a declaratory judgement action from the Providence County Superior Court to clarify and define the city council role in the use and expenditure of special grants like the ARPA funds,” Hopkins added.

The City Council approved the 2024-2025 operating and capital budgets on April 29, 2024.  Their unauthorized use of the ARPA funds caused Hopkins to exercise his line-item veto authority under the city charter. 

“On May 6, 2024 despite our best efforts to convince the council that they had exceeded their authority in the use of the ARPA funds, the vetoes were overridden by the City Council Democrats,” Hopkins said.

Mayor Hopkins noted that there is an existing city ordinance that requires the city council to approve the spending of ARPA funds.

“I have no problem with that concept provided the mayor first proposes or supports the expenditures.”  He said, “contrary to some thinking, the ordinance is not a blank check for the city council to indiscriminately spend ARPA funds without the input and support of the chief executive.” 

Hopkins said “if the council can do it with ARPA funds what is to say they cannot do it with other grants and receipts the city receives from state and local partners”       

Mayor Hopkins emphasized that the litigation is limited to the unlawful use of the ARPA funds by the city council, saying in “seeking injunctive relief from the Superior Court, we are asking to maintain the status quo and limit the use of the ARPA funds as proposed in the operating and capital budgets.”

“We are not challenging the rest of the $323 million budget.” He stated, “the operations of our city department and school system will continue business as usual and will not be impaired by this court action.”

Hopkins also said “beyond the unlawful steps taken, the council majority, if left unchecked, will have cost the taxpayers over $1.5 million in reimbursement of state aid on school projects normally funded through the capital budget.” “The math was presented in easy-to-understand power point presentation at the council meeting and the majority chose to dismiss the substantial reimbursement that was there for the benefit of taxpayer.” 

The mayor noted that his administration had made several overtures to the City Council to discuss this critical issue in hopes of avoiding this legal confrontation. “We spoke about trying to resolve this legal collision in several public sessions before the City Council.” He said, “last week City Solicitor Christopher Millea reached out to the Council President and council attorney to try and meet before filing the litigation.”  “I am disappointed that such opportunities to talk and try and resolve this important issue were rebuffed and forced us to ask the court for guidance.”

The litigation filed names all the members of the Cranston City Council as defendants in their official capacities.  Finance Director Thomas Zidelis is also a named defendant procedurally in his official capacity due to the injunctive relief being sought to prevent the expenditure of the ARPA funds.

On June 11th, the Cranston City Counncil went into Executive Session to discuss the suit, and appoint their representation:

A hearing on the mayor’s request for a temporary restraining order will be considered TODAY in Superior Court before Judge Christopher Smith. Attorney Stephen Angell represents the City Council. It is unclear if City Council members will appear in court.

Mayor Kenneth J. Hopkins announced today (June 21) that the Cranston City Council has agreed, through their attorney, to a temporary restraining order on the use of ARPA funds as had been pursued by administration attorneys in the Providence County Superior Court legal action.

The mayor said a lawsuit had been filed on June 6th seeking judicial clarification over the powers of the chief executive and city council to expend funds from Cranston’s allocation of funds received from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (“ARPA”).

“The agreement by the City Council to the injunction we sought will eliminate the need to go forward today with the scheduled hearing before Judge Christopher Smith,” said Mayor Hopkins.  “As part of the court order the Council agreed that the implementation of the operating and capital budgets for Fiscal Year 2025 that relied on ARPA funding would be enjoined until August 30, 2024 unless additional agreements are reached by the parties.”

Hopkins said, “My hope is that the City Council majority will reconsider my repeated offers to try and resolve this matter amicably and without costly litigation and unnecessary rancor.”

“I sincerely believe that the actions by the city council majority exceeded their authority,” Mayor Hopkins stated. “We are seeking the declaratory judgment from the Superior Court to clarify and define the council’s role in the use and expenditure of special grants like the ARPA funds.”

The mayor reaffirmed that the litigation was limited to only the administration’s view of the unlawful use of the ARPA funds by the city council. Hopkins said “the rest of the $323 million operating and capital budgets are not being questioned or affected.”

“We will start the new fiscal year on July 1st with all aspects of city and school operations fully underway for the benefit of taxpayers, students, parents, and local businesses,” he said.

He concluded by saying that “this is an important policy issue to clarify the city’s long-standing practices and beliefs as to the scope of executive authority under the City Charter and local ordinances.”

This is a developing story.

Posted in

Leave a Comment