CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. — The motto of Rhode Island’s smallest and most distressed municipality — ‘‘A City With a Bright Future’’ — just got renewed meaning.
That is what officials said one day after the mayor resigned and agreed to plead guilty to a federal corruption charge of accepting gifts in exchange for awarding a lucrative no-bid contract to board up foreclosed houses.
Charles Moreau’s plea agreement, which will probably lead to prison time, was announced the same month a federal judge approved a fiscal recovery plan for Central Falls, paving the way for it to exit municipal bankruptcy.
A cloud has hung over Central Falls since the state took it over in 2010, the same year federal and state investigators began to look into whether Moreau had improperly received gifts from businessman Michael Bouthillette. Bouthillette has agreed to plead guilty to giving gifts in a scheme in which prosecutors say he made ‘‘unreasonable profits’’ boarding up houses.
Central Falls, a 1.3-square-mile city where one-quarter of the 19,000 residents live below the poverty line, has struggled with the stigma of being the first and only Rhode Island municipality to enter bankruptcy protection.
The community center was closed, the library temporarily shuttered. Taxes went up. Pensions were slashed. Through it all, Moreau, who had served since 2004, and several members of the City Council publicly denounced the office of the receiver, whom they said has ruled like a dictator.
But the end of the bankruptcy and a special election for mayor have left Central Falls preparing for a fresh start.
James Diossa, the only City Council member to have actively worked with the receiver and a likely candidate for the top municipal job, said Moreau’s resignation closes what he called an ‘‘unfortunate chapter.’’
‘‘This is a proud community of honest, hard-working men and women who have overcome many challenges . . . and who remain deeply committed to building a brighter future for Central Falls,’’ he said.
Attorney General Peter Kilmartin called the day that the plea agreements were disclosed a good one for Central Falls because residents were putting behind them both a ‘‘corrupt administration’’ and the bankruptcy.
Earlier this month, in approving the receiver’s five-year financial plan for the city, US Bankruptcy Judge Frank Bailey also spoke of the healing process he hoped could begin.
Healing will not come easily in all quarters. William Benson Jr., the City Council president, remains bitter about the receivership.
He maintains that he should be considered the acting mayor, although the state revenue director, Rosemary Booth Gallogly, said there is no need for him to step in and that a special election will be held.
The receivership will remain in place until Gallogly feels confident that the elected leadership understands and will implement the new financial plan.