2016-07-07 / Front Page

Incumbents Rule Out Rerun

By Barry Bridges

With the end of the candidate filing period on Wednesday, June 29, two incumbent Newport City Councilors announced they will not be seeking re-election in 2016.

Councilor Naomi Neville issued a statement to that effect as the filing period was winding down, while Councilor John Florez initially declared his candidacy with the necessary paperwork, but then reconsidered and said on Friday, July 1, that he would also decline to pursue office this year.

“It’s been an honor to serve as a City Councilor, but I have a number of exciting professional opportunities and at this time, I need to focus on my career,” Neville wrote. She later indicated to Newport This Week that she wants to grow her architectural practice and has accepted an interior design teaching position at URI.

First elected in 2010, Neville has been a proponent of identifying efficiencies to be gained between the city and the School Department. She served on the City Council/ School Liaison Subcommittee, which has developed policy goals for sharing services in areas such as facilities maintenance, accounting, information technology, human re- sources, and purchasing.

Neville has put forth resolutions to delineate clear policies on online and short-term property rentals, and chaired the Newport Information Technology Working Group, which worked on the island’s access to fiber optic broadband technology. She was recently appointed by Gov. Gina Raimondo to the Rhode Island School Building Advisory Board, which is tasked with assessing public school facilities throughout the state and recommending a priority plan for school construction.

“I’ve been pleased to have created a productive working environment between the School Department and the city and the successful start of shared services, information technology improvements, the hiring of a new city manager, and important capital projects such as St. Clare’s, the Pell School and Queen Anne Square park renovations,” she said in her announcement.

Elaborating with Newport This Week, she added, “I worked for a long, long time in the acquisition of the Navy Hospital property and one day soon I think we’ll see some promising developments. A small victory that I’m proud of, one that was surprisingly more difficult than one would expect, was the removal of the chain link fence along Farewell Street.

“Three terms on council and six years on the Planning Board have been very rewarding, but stepping down also allows for new voices to step forward,” she said. “I look forward to serving in different ways in the years to come.”

Florez first served in Newport’s city government as part of the Finance Review Committee appointed in 2013, and was successful in his subsequent run for an at-large seat on the council in 2014.

Like Neville, he cited family and professional commitments in his decision not to run in 2016.

“Serving my community has been an unbelievably enriching experience. However, after giving it careful consideration, the challenges of running a growing technology company and family are simply too demanding,” Florez wrote on his Facebook page on July 1. “Many of you have been so supportive of my many initiatives and for this I am humbled and eternally filled with gratitude.

“This is one of the toughest decisions I’ve had in a long, long time,” Florez told Newport This Week. “I’ve sometimes had a rocky relationship with the council, but over the last four months or so things have come together and we’re gaining momentum.”

Florez stated that he has helped Newport to solidify its “brand” as a progressive seaside community. Specific ideas that he has championed in the last 18 months include a police body camera pilot program and a measure that he sponsored in February that directs the city to look into funding options for a camera surveillance system in the Broadway, Thames and Washington Square commercial districts.

Last September, Florez was successful in getting buy-in from his fellow councilors on the city’s need for a chief information officer. At the time, he said “We’re trying to redefine our landscape from a seasonal tourist economy to a far more complex, broader economy with a greater diversity of employment opportunities. A chief information officer is an essential hire for [our] goals and level of complexity.” He recently said that the position was included in the Fiscal 2017 city budget and that job descriptions are in progress.

The councilor also introduced a measure in May mandating that the city staff draft an ordinance to phase out the use of disposable plastic bags by Jan. 1, 2017.

“I am proud of that environmental legislation,” he told Newport This Week. “In the six months left in my term, I’m really going to make sure that the police and surveillance camera programs get off the ground.”

And Florez doesn’t preclude a future role in the public eye. “I will strongly consider running for office in the future. There’s a lot of stuff to get accomplished out there, and I don’t want to be left wondering if I could have done more for my community.”

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