City Council Meeting Tonight will Address Fire Dept. Hiring Snafu
Asst. Mayor Britto to Bring up Issue.
The City of East Providence is once again seeking applicants to fill vacant positions within the fire department. The move is seen as one which will delay the eventual hiring and cost the city thousands of dollars in overtime and other costs. The city will not be able to send recruits to a state-run academy now and will have to operate its own at a higher cost.
The City Council meeting tonight, February 7th, has at least one councilman speaking on this topic and requests from residents to also speak on the issue. City administrators have been reluctant to speak specifically in public. Acting City Manager Tim Chapman, Human Resources Director Kathleen Waterbury and Fire Chief Oscar Elmasian have all told The Reporter that they refuse to comment. Ward 1 councilman Bob Britto has placed the item on tonight's agenda.
As The Reporter first disclosed a week ago, controversial Human Resource Director Kathleen Waterbury threw out all applicants for the City's fire department, citing "Process Errors." Waterbury has sent all applicants for vacant fire department positions a letter de-certifying all candidates. In that letter dated January 19, 2017, Waterbury states, "I am writing to inform you that at the January 17, 2017 East Providence Hearing Board meeting, the Board did not certify the lists for Firefighters. The Board, under their full and irrevocable authority made the determination that due to several process errors that it was in the best interest of the applicants and the City to redo the fire recruitment process. Due to the large number of applicants...do not call the HR Department but wait for the email as it will answer all of your questions. The City of East Providence sincerely apologizes..." - Kathleen Waterbury, HR Director.
Last week Ward 3 councilman Joe Botelho said that he first heard of this snafu when a constituent called him to complain. "I asked Mr. Chapman (Acting City Manager) who didn't say much other than there was a bunch of mistakes. After thinking about this I wasn't very happy. It's not right," said Botelho. "I've talked to Mr. Britto (Ward 1 councilman) and I believe he is putting this matter on the next council docket. Britto is indeed addressing the issue tonight as is the city resident who called a couple of councilman to complain.
Ward 4 councilman Brian Faria said he also has received complaints from residents. "This process started before I was elected and I'm concerned here but I know that we (council members) can't get too involved with personnel decisions," Faria told The Reporter.
Botelho said that he is starting an investigation into what happened. "I've sent a letter to the personnel hearing board asking each member for their reason in re-advertising. There better be a damn good reason. This could cost the city a ton of money in overtime. It will be quite a while before we re-advertise, interview and hire the new class," offered Botelho. "This action is extraordinary," said Botelho. "I don't ever remember a similar circumstance." he added.
City Personnel Hearing Board member Wendy Caputo was reached for comment. "Because of issues relative to not following the City Charter properly, the board did not certify the list as presented and the call for recruitment will be re-posted properly," said Caputo. "I was not comfortable by the way things were done initially. I do not believe the errors were intentional, but there were errors and inconsistencies. It would have been wrong to continue and I was not willing to do anything that could leave the city open to another lawsuit."
Asked why HR Director Waterbury didn't recommend this action upon her return from leave some two months ago, Caputo would only say that "I do not know who was responsible, so I cannot place blame. But we wanted to do things the right way according to Charter. The (Personnel) committee was unanimous in this decision," added Caputo.
So far overtime costs attributed to the fire department are approximately at $600,000. Overtime salaries approached $3 million in 2015. Observers close to the situation don't understand why the total applicants list was thrown out by Waterbury. The process was started by a former HR Director, Raymond Benoit, who returned to the city while Waterbury was out on suspension by former city manager Richard Kirby.
Clouding the fire department hiring issue is the fact that Waterbury has alleged sexual harassment by former city managers Richard Kirby, Paul Lemont and Fire Chief Elmasian. Trapped in the middle of all this are the recruits seeking to become the newest city firefighters. Waterbury seems to be basing her decision on throwing out the current list on the fact that the scoring bar may have been lowered after reviewing applicant results. However reports confirm that the city has adjusted the testing threshold in the past when the need to do so benefited the process in general. Waterbury believes this to be a charter violation. From February 26, 2014 through January 17, 2017 there have been 21 meetings between the HR Director and the city personnel hearing board. All but two of those meetings were held by Waterbury.
Waterbury has told applicants that decisions of the personnel hearing board are "irrevocable" but appeals can be made to the American Arbitration Association. Meeting minutes are not readily available to substantiate any paper trail or board decisions.
Requests for recent personnel hearing board minutes by The Reporter under the Public Information Act have been refused because "minutes from the last hearing board meeting have not been approved until its next meeting which has not been scheduled," said the city legal department.
New Fire Dept.Application Process Announced:
2/7/2017 - Firefighter/EMT-Pay grade 37
Fire Fighter/EMT-Pay grade 37
Perform skilled firefighting work in combating, extinguishing, and preventing fires; in rendering medical assistance at medical and other emergency scenes; and in operating and maintaining Fire Department equipment, apparatus, and work environment.
- Must be at least 21 years of age by Friday, March 3, 2017.
- Must be a United States Citizen, and furnish a birth certificate.
- Must possess and furnish a copy of valid driver’s license.
- Must possess a High School Diploma or General Education Diploma (GED).
- Must be able to swim four (4) laps of a certified Olympic size pool.
- Must provide a recent certified copy of your driving record. Must be obtained from the Division of Motor Vehicles Operator Control Office of the state in which you reside.
- Successful completion of the Rhode Island Association of Fire Chiefs Physical Performance Assessment (PPA) by May 1, 2017.
- Current Rhode Island Emergency Medical Technician Basic certification
Submit a completed application packet found at www.eastprovidenceri.net under JOBS or;
The City of East Providence
Human Resources Department Room 201
145 Taunton Avenue, East Providence RI 02914
NO LATER THAN 3:30 pm on Friday, March 3, 2017 in order to be considered.
The minimum passing score required on both examinations shall be 70 points.
The City of East Providence does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age or disability in employment or the provision of services.