Providence City Council votes to divest from Sudan

Tax status of Brown Bookstore also addressed at meeting

Friday, April 7, 2006

The City Council unanimously voted to divest from Sudan Thursday night, making Providence the first city in the United States to do so, according to the measure’s backers.

The council voted 13-0 in favor of divestment. The ordinance must be passed by the council a second time, on April 20, before it is sent to Mayor David Cicilline ’83 for his signature.

“It is easy to ignore or forget that this genocide is happening,” said Ward 9 City Councilman Miguel Luna, one of the ordinance’s sponsors, before the meeting. “We are paying attention because our money is supporting this genocide.”

The genocide in Sudan’s province of Darfur has left an estimated 400,000 dead since early 2003, with many more displaced, according to the Washington-based Coalition for International Justice.

The ordinance requires that Providence divest from all companies that “provide revenues to the Sudanese government,” do not offer “substantive” benefit to the Sudanese people and have not taken steps to halt the genocide. The city has already identified at least one qualifying investment – $800,000 the city has invested in Alcatel, a French communications company.

Ward 1 City Councilman David Segal, co- sponsor of the ordinance, said he hopes Providence’s divestment will spur other cities to do the same.

“We hope that our action will trigger a wave of action on the municipal level around the country,” he said. “We want to do what we can to mitigate what’s happening there.”

The city’s divestment came on the same day that a divestment bill was introduced in the state House of Representatives by five legislators, including Rep. Edith Ajello, D-District 3, whose district includes Brown’s campus.

The Brown Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, voted to divest from Sudan in February. A number of universities around the country, including the University of California system and Stanford University, have divested from Sudan, as have several states, including Oregon, New Jersey and Illinois.

“I’m proud to live in the city of Providence, the first city in the nation to divest from Sudan,” said Scott Warren ’09, a leader of the Darfur Action Network – the Brown chapter of Students Taking Action Now: Darfur – who was on hand at City Hall before the meeting.

Luna compared the growing Sudan divestment campaign to the 1980s campaign to divest from South Africa.

“I remember back in the 1980s, when an international movement pressured South Africa to end apartheid,” Luna said. “We can do the same now to end the genocide.”

In other business, the City Council passed a number of progressive-friendly measures, including an ordinance allowing city employees to invest in “socially responsible” retirement plans and a measure requiring the city to avoid using sweatshop-produced goods. Both ordinances must be passed a second time before becoming law.

The Council also passed an ordinance requiring the Providence Public Library, a non-profit private company, to allow the city to appoint eight members of the 33-member Board of Directors. If the PPL does not comply, it will lose its funding from the city.

Ward 10 City Councilman Luis Aponte said the city and state provide 60 percent of the PPL budget but have no oversight over how that money is spent.

“There has been an unwillingness … to accept some small measure of public oversight of how these dollars are spent,” he said.

Segal, a co-sponsor with Aponte of the ordinance, said the bill has not yet been presented to the PPL Board of Directors because their March 30 meeting was postponed, but he said it will be soon.

The Council also unanimously passed a resolution requesting that Brown have 25 percent of its energy use come from renewable energy sources by 2010 as well as an easement to the University allowing it to repair its high-temperature hot water system under Hope, Cushing, Thayer and Meeting streets.

But a resolution sponsored by Segal encouraging the University “to maintain an independently-owned and operated bookstore” ran into trouble, as some council members said a bookstore operated by a for-profit firm may generate tax revenue for the city.

“Brown’s not paying a dollar” in taxes on the bookstore because the University is a non-profit institution, said Ward 7 City Councilman John Igliozzi. If outsourcing the bookstore’s operation to a for-profit firm makes it eligible for the city to tax, he added, “let’s do it.”

“Independent to the people means they don’t pay any taxes,” he continued. “For me as a taxpayer, it means Browns gets a free ride again.”

The resolution was eventually referred to the Committee on Rules for further study after a procedural complaint was cleared up.

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