Former Tax Collector Speaks out; Mayor Responds In Advance
Former Providence Tax Collector Robert Ceprano talks about his termination and events leading up to it in today’s front page ProJo story by Mike Stanton. And below is the text of a press release issued yesterday by Mayor David Cicilline responding to the story ahead of time.
Two items stick out from Stanton’s story. One is the contrast between the curriculum vitae of Robert Ceprano and David Cicilline, the former notably heavy in the areas of military and public service. The second is this item, about half way down:
But weeks and months passed, the taxes remained unpaid and Cicilline remained elusive. Ceprano, who learned from the city’s lawyer that Cicilline didn’t have sufficient money in his account, enlisted the mayor’s then-chief of staff, Chris Bizzacco, and another aide, Rita Murphy. Both tried without success to collect the money. A few times, Ceprano and the lawyer, Scott Hammer, wanted to cash the check, to force Cicilline’s hand, but Bizzacco passed the word through Murphy that they should hold the check.
[Press Release issued by Mayor David Cicilline at 8:37 pm last night]
I wanted to let you know about a story that will be featured in tomorrow’s Providence Sunday Journal in which the City’s former Tax Collector Robert Ceprano and his attorney, Artin Coloian, seek to make a case in the press that his original termination last September was not based on performance.
It is not a pleasant thing to discuss someone’s substandard job performance publicly, but public trust is critical to effective government and these allegations of inappropriate termination need to be addressed openly and immediately.
The Finance Director has forwarded the information below, which is a summary of the factors that led to his official request for the Tax Collector’s resignation on September 15th, 2008:
Upon taking office in October 2007, Finance Director Bruce Miller determined that the Tax Collector’s Office was lagging far behind national, and State of Rhode Island, best practices. Deficiencies included:
– inefficiencies due to poor use or non-use of technology
– internal control gaps that rendered the City vulnerable to error and fraud
– inefficient operational practices
– lack of effective policies and procedures
Finance Director Miller initiated a process to bring the Tax Collector’s office from a level of mediocrity to a level of excellence. This began with a discussion of the deficiencies that Mr. Miller had outlined and his request that a plan be developed to correct them. The Tax Collector repeatedly refused to create the plan or initiate the improvements.
After roughly nine months of working with the Tax Collector to make these improvements, Director Miller saw no improvement in the operations of that office. The Tax Collector’s failure to act was clearly leading to disciplinary procedures against him, so Director Miller sought to pursue an outcome that might avoid termination. In July and August of 2008, several options were discussed:
Continue as Tax Collector while complying with all the stated expectations, understanding that if expectations were not met then termination would proceed.
Because the Tax Collector had difficulty meeting the expectations of the Finance Department, perhaps another City department would be more suitable. Reassignment to the Police Department was discussed.
The Tax Collector could choose to resign. He was interested in this option and a discussion of the conditions regarding this option ensued.
Finally, last September, the Tax Collector agreed to resign. On September 15th, 2008 Director Miller formally asked for his resignation by email.
This unfortunate episode reflects my view that the citizens of Providence have a right to expect something more than the mediocre performance they were getting from the Tax Collector during his tenure. While operating in a nearly complete absence of standards or procedures might have worked under previous administrations, my view is that it is an invitation to precisely the kind of corruption we were burdened with under previous administrations. The Tax Collector’s unwillingness to raise his performance to a level of professionalism that the taxpayers have a right to expect led, regrettably, to his inevitable resignation.
Our efforts to clean up Providence and set things right will continue.
As always, please feel free to contact me with any further questions or concerns.
David N. Cicilline
Paid for by The Cicilline Committee. Per Rhode Island State Law, individuals may contribute a maximum of $1,000 per year. Business and corporate checks are prohibited. Note: In keeping with Mayor Cicilline’s pledge to not accept campaign contributions from employees and vendors of the City of Providence, any contribution from an employee or vendor will be returned.