PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI) — Providence mayoral candidate Brett Smiley announced on Friday a proposal for the creation of the Providence Office of Strategic Partnerships (OSP).
Smiley, the former chairman of Providence Water Supply Board, is aiming to bridge the gap between the public and private sectors to bring new funds to the city.
In a statement released by the Smiley for Mayor campaign, the proposed office would “create and promote public-private partnerships between the city, private foundations and the vibrant non-profit sector.” Denver and Los Angeles were mentioned as other cities that have used this strategy to “better coordinate efforts to solve important urban problems.”
According to Smiley, the first job of the OSP will be to “forge the kind of partnerships with the private and non-profit sectors that bring in more federal, state, corporate and private foundation grants into our city.”
If implemented, the OSP would be guided by an advisory board made up of representatives from community-based non-profits, foundations, and the business community. Their job would be to provide feedback on the work of the OSP.
Smiley said that he would hire someone with experience in both local government and private foundation work to head the office and use other cities that have used this approach as model for Providence.
Smiley released the first part of his economic development plan last week, when he proposed reforming the Providence Economic Development Partnership (PEDP). Under the reform, an independent program created would leave loan-making decision to “qualified underwriters” instead of the 15-member board.
“City Hall still remains a place where you need to ‘know a guy’ in order to get something done, and PEDP is a shining example of this breakdown in fairness,” Smiley said in a statement. “Everybody should have an equal opportunity to gain access to PEDP loans regardless of their personal connections to City Hall.”
The PEDP – which provides low-interest loans funded by taxpayers to small businesses that have been denied by other lenders – has been under harsh criticism by the U.S. Department of Housing Urban Development for a lack of oversight.
In recent years, the PEDP has been required to repay $1.3 million for loans it should have never approved and $618,000 for purchases made between 2005-2011, including a limousine ride, parking tickets, and gifts to sick employees.
In an effort to increase oversight, HUD now requires its own approval of loans before the PEPD is allow to disburse any money.
According to Smiley, the program has been “riddled with cronyism and inefficient business practices,” thus keeping the PEDP from its purpose: economic development.
Smiley is not alone in the race to succeed Mayor Angel Taveras, who is running for governor. City Council President Michael Solomon, former Housing Court Judge Jorge Elorza, East Side businessman Lorne Adrain, and Chris Young have all thrown their hat into the race and will square off in a Democratic primary on Sept. 9.
Only one Republican has declared their candidacy. Daniel Harrop will face the winner of the September primary in November.