January News Briefs
City Human Resource Director Resigns - Gets $575,000 Settlement
(City Council did not want to settle case. However, insurance company settled)
East Providence HR Director, Kathleen Waterbury has resigned from her position, effective February9, 2018. Waterbury has had a rough start ever since being hired. Waterbury had been suspended and then fired by former City Manager Richard Kirby, who was himself fired by the City Council. U.S. District Court Judge William Smith reinstated her following Kirby’s actions.
“Nothing in this order prevents the city from terminating Ms. Waterbury if it provides her with the required process,” Smith wrote in his decision. “Having failed to meet the due process requirements adopted by the city in its charter and revised ordinances, Waterbury’s suspension is void,” wrote Christopher Blazejewski, a lawyer and state representative hired to serve as impartial hearing officer.
Blazejewski said Kirby did not abide by two city requirements in his second bid to fire Waterbury, when he suspended her on July 14. For starters, the notice he gave her offered no reason other than “for the good of the service.”
“The use of the phrase ‘for the good of the service,’ without enumerating specific reasons or charges -- is insufficient,” Blazejewski wrote. Also, Kirby did not advise her of her right to request a hearing to contest her dismissal. She only requested, and was granted, a private hearing before Blazejewski “through her own diligence,” he noted.
The Rhode Island Interlocal Risk Management Trust, is an insurance and risk management organization focused exclusively on providing comprehensive risk management to local governments in Rhode Island. "Born from a national insurance crisis in the 1980s that affected numerous states, The Trust became Rhode Island’s first intergovernmental risk-sharing pool in 1986 when six municipal entities came together through the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns to develop affordable insurance solutions for Rhode Island’s local governmental entities," explains a Trust spokesperson.
Attorney MaxWistow represents Richard Kirby and is not happy with the Trust's decision to settle this case. "I write as counsel for Richard Kirby, Defendant in the Waterbury v. City of East Providence, et al action. I serve in that capacity both at Mr. Kirby's request and with the Rhode Island lnterlocal Trust's express authorization," wrote Wistow in a blistering December 4th letter to The Trust. "As you must be aware, Mr. Eskey filed on November 30th a Motion to Dismiss (with prejudice) as to Defendants Kirby, Lemont and Elmasian. I assume that the reason for this motion is a settlement arrangement between the Trust and the Plaintiff, Ms. Waterbury. I say "assume," because I have been kept completely in the dark as to any negotiations between the Trust and the Plaintiff. Any information I have been provided has thus far been limited to rumor and the grapevine. This, in spite of the Trust's obligations to Mr. Kirby," Wistow continued.
"The City had spent over $70,000 on an independent report ("the Ragosta Report"). The Ragosta Report effectively cleared the City (and the individual defendants) and made unfavorable findings as to Waterbury. The Leaver report (also at significant cost to the City) was yet another investigation that completely undermines Waterbury's claims," wrote Wistow. "My understanding - necessarily limited because of the Trust's decision to exclude Kirby from the process - is that the last position taken by the City Council was to refuse to settle the case," he writes.
Wistow finished his letter to The Trust by stating, "In sum, we believe that there is something rotten going on. Mr. Kirby intends to get to the bottom of this mess. It seems likely that this will require further proceedings that may prove even more costly to the Trust than the Waterbury matter."
The Trust, however, settled the case and Ms. Waterbury received the $575,000 settlement. Waterbury has had all security access to City Hall removed and is remaining on the payroll until her February resignation date. Circumstances surrounding this decision to settle were most likely part of the reason the City Council scheduled a rare Sunday session with Manager Tim Chapman on December 3rd. No reported action took place at that time.
The settlement amount of $575,000 will not come directly from the city budget. However the city's premium rate will "most assuredly go up," said several persons close to the process. Other clients of the statewide Trust may be effected also.
The Waterbury settlement marks another in a long line of personnel related settlements and lawsuits involving city employees. Some of these cases involve two former police chiefs and a high ranking police officer, a school business manager, school custodians, a building inspector, school superintendents, a school Chief Operating Officer, City Hall department heads and others. Many of these were winning clients for Tom McAndrew, a prominent attorney. In an interview a few years ago McAndrew stated that "I really tried to head off these cases. It isn't fair to people of East Providence for this to happen. The sad thing is that those responsible for these actions generally see no consequences for their actions. They disparage people and manufacture allegations. Not fair," reflected McAndrew. Waterbury had alleged on the job sexual harassment and other discrimination charges against some city officials.
In one of McAndrew's biggest cases against the city, former city Traffic Engineer Ali Khorasani won a $580,000, plus, bias claim. Khorasani claimed that he had been subjected to ethnic harassment and abuse. The complaint said that city officials “created a hostile work environment” and then retaliated against him when Khorasani complained to the state human rights commission in 1994. The city then fired Khorasani from an assistant city engineer’s post. After some two weeks of Court testimony the jury awarded Khorasani damages approaching $647,000 in back pay, interest and attorney fees. Additional punitive charges were also looming as Judge Judith Savage asked the jury to return and deliberate on “further damages”.
"Yes, I stay busy, especially in East Providence," McAndrew said at the time. “It’s about doing what is right and fair for everyone. It shouldn’t have to become a matter for the courts.”
Rare Emergency Sunday Council Session
The East Providence City Council met in a rare emergency Sunday evening meeting on December 3, 2017. The posted reason for the meeting was to conduct a "City Manager Job Performance Review." After a three and a half hour meeting, no formal action was taken.
Currently the City Manager is Timothy Chapman. Chapman is a former City Solicitor who was named Acting and then City Manager after a succession of fired City Managers. Chapman is slated to serve as City Manager until the City elects its first-ever full time Mayor in November of 2018. Chapman has said previously that he won't be a candidate for the newly approved office of full time Mayor.
At varying times, certain council members have sought to remove Chapman from the Manager's post. The attempts in the past to discuss Chapman's "performance" never materialized as legal posting deadlines and other wrangling took place. Prior council concern revolved around the city Human Resources Director and issues with fire department testing and hiring procedures. Issues with fire recruit "test scoring and ranking", led to some recruits publicly complaining and engaging attorneys.
Mayor Briden said that he "didn't know who called for the meeting. I don't know who requested it or why they want it or why it had to be Sunday night," added Mayor Briden. Generally it takes at least three members to call for a special meeting. Councilman Britto didn't attend the Sunday session and was busy with a holiday event in his Ward 1. Reportedly it was council members Anna Sousa (Ward 2), Joe Botelho (Ward 3) and Brian Faria (Ward 4) who formally requested the Sunday session.
State Task Force Wants School Repairs
The Rhode Island School Building Task Force, chaired by General Treasurer Seth Magaziner and Education Commissioner Ken Wagner, has developed a plan to make a once-in-a-generation investment to public schools throughout the state. In a release by the committee chaired by General Treasurer Seth Magaziner and Education Commissioner Ken Wagner, the group said, "Every child deserves to go to a school that is warm, safe, dry and equipped for 21st century learning, but too many of our public school buildings are failing," said Treasurer Magaziner. "We cannot afford to wait any longer to take action so this group has developed a plan to do right by our children by repairing our school buildings all across the state."
Specifically, the Task Force recommends: A referendum to the voters on the 2018 ballot for authorization to issue $250 million of General Obligation bonds for public school construction and repair over a five year period, with no more than $100 million to be issued in any one year. A referendum on the 2022 ballot for authorization to issue $250 million of General Obligation bonds for public school construction and repair over a five-year period, with no more than $100 million to be issued in any one year.
To encourage school districts to embark on more school repair and construction projects, the Task Force recommends a system of targeted increases to the state's share of school construction projects, prioritizing projects to improve the safety, 21st century learning environments and operational efficiency of schools.
"This isn't just about making bold investments; it's about making smart investments, and this report is an important step forward in a long-term process that will help our students succeed," said Ken Wagner, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education. "We appreciate the feedback we've heard from the Task Force members and from students, educators, and families across the state, and the report is reflective of the collective vision we share in which all students have access to 21st century learning environments."
The 19-member Task Force was convened by Governor Raimondo in September after an independent study identified more than $2.2 billion in deficiencies in the state's 306 public schools, more than $600 million of which are immediate "warm, safe, and dry" needs. The report also found that the state's current level of support is causing the cost of repairing these deficiencies to grow by an average of $70 million per year.
The Task Force recommends issuing $500 million of state General Obligation bonds for public school construction and repair over the next 10 years, with the first bonds to be proposed to voters in a referendum in 2018. This level of bonding is less than half of the state's total capacity to issue bonds over the next decade, according to the state's Debt Affordability study completed earlier this year. While other states regularly issue bonds to support school construction, Rhode Island has not done so for more than 20 years.
The final recommendations of the Rhode Island School Building Task Force were approved unanimously by the 15 members present at their December 13 meeting, with one abstention. House Finance Committee Chairman and Task Force member Marvin Abney had previously informed the group that he would abstain from the final vote out of deference to his committee's responsibility to consider the bonds in the upcoming legislative session.
The December 13th meeting was held at East Providence High School where the group toured the facility. Ward 3 school committee member serves as local building committee chair and has kept all parties apprised of the plan's progress. "We are continuing to tweak the building plans," Cahoon said. The proposed new school will not include a pool. The projected enrollment for a new high school would be 1600 in a 9 through 12 complex including the Career Center. The Career Center (vocational school) will basically remain but with some different programs. The committee approved spending $35,000 as requested by the state Department of Education for site reviews.
The local building committee consists of:
Kathryn M. Crowley – Superintendent of Schools
Nathan Cahoon – Building Committee Chair
Anthony Feola – Director of Facilities & Security
Joseph Botelho – City Council Member
Shani Wallace – East Providence High School Principal
Dr. Sandra Forand – Assistant Superintendent of Schools
Nick Shattuck – Union President
Lucy Maddock – Director of Finance
John McNamee, CPA – North Providence Director of Finance
Stephen Amoroso, RA, LEED AP – Architect
John Carnevale – Engineer
Robert Weygand – Graduate Program Director Public Administration, URI Construction
Christy Healey – Acting Deputy Director Special Projects Administrator
Manuel Vinhateiro – Former School Superintendent
City Council - School Committee Cooperation Needed
The process to repair or build a new East Providence High School will lean heavily on a cooperative effort between the school committee and city council. A bond issue will have to be formalized and eventually receive support from the General Assembly. At-Large councilman and Mayor Jim Briden recently released a statement in which he mentions "competing infrastructure needs," in reference to the high school project.
"This winter the City Council will need to carefully evaluate and make important decisions concerning the allocation of our limited resources and borrowing capacity for the future infrastructure needs of East Providence.
If we decide to redefine our synchronization fund and the current annual 2.3 million dollar contribution as one that is devoted in whole or in part to the debt service on a bond for improving or constructing a new high school building, then the Council must also determine what other capital needs EP will be borrowing for and spending money on over at least the next 5 years.
For example, if we decide to support a particular plan for the high school and bond amount to be placed on the November ballot, then we also need to figure out what we expect to be spending on our roads over the next 5 years.
The objective is to strike the proper balance between all of our competing infrastructure needs. Moreover, we should incorporate our decisions into carefully aligned capital and fiscal multi-year plans. The recently approved 5 year budget plan projects an annual tax increase of approximately 3%.
The decisions we make now for our high school need to allow us to also focus on other important infrastructure needs, including other school buildings, and to not exceed the projected 3% annual tax increase of our five year plan.
Finally, if we forego synchronizing our tax year in order to improve our high school building, then we will need to keep our total debt level relatively low so as to ensure our ability to procure Tax Anticipation Notes (TANS) in the future, especially when the economy changes," said Briden.
Aside from Briden's press release, he accepted a school committee report from Ward 3 committee member, Nathan Cahoon at the December 19th city council meeting, on the new high school project. Briden's comments were very cautionary and he wouldn't commit to allowing a bond issue for the public to decide the issue. "I don't want to put this on the ballot until we know what the financial responsibility to the public will be and if it's affordable," said Briden.
Ward 3 councilman Joe Botelho was leaning toward a bond issue that the public will decide on. "The people will decide this issue. If we fix our streets, schools and invest in infrastructure, we shouldn't need to borrow a lot of money in future bond issues," said Botelho.
In an apparent challenge to Mayor Briden and the council, Cahoon urged the issue be placed on the ballot for a public vote. "You will absolutely know the cost and everything you need to know about the high school project on your time frame," Cahoon told Briden. "This matter is too important to not let the public decide," added Cahoon. "I don't want to put a number on the property values of homes in the city if our high school loses accreditation because of the building needs," said Cahoon.
"Is there a chance that the school committee can look at a hybrid or repairing the school," asked Briden. "The committee has voted to prepare proposals for construction of a new, 21st century state of the art high school," answered Cahoon. Cahoon is serving as a building committee chairperson.
"Can we make this work if we can only afford to bond $100 million," asked Briden. "If we then get 74% reimbursement, that would be great. Is there an opportunity to scale back?"
"I'm happy to have the discussion to give that thought. We are well ahead of others in the state and want to take the lead when state funding is ready," answered Cahoon.
A new high school to replace the 66 year old school on Pawtucket Avenue could cost approximately $120 million. Different scenarios have the state reimbursing East Providence from 50% to 75% of the project cost. Cahoon said a cost estimate should be ready by a January 23rd city council meeting.
New Martin Middle School Principal Named
The East Providence School Committee hired city resident William Black as the new Martin Middle School principal at its December 12, 2017 meeting. Black is currently the principal at West Broadway Middle School in Providence, RI. The Rhode Island Association of School Principals named Black as the "Outstanding 1st Year Principal of the Year" in 2014.
Black and his family, including three young children, are residents of the Rumford section of East Providence. Black took the reins of a new Providence middle school and developed a new staff and has been widely supported in Providence. Black uses popular "tweets", robocalls, "Youtube," newsletters and neighborhood visits to communicate with his Providence school community.
Superintendent of Schools, Kathryn Crowley made the recommendation of William Black to the School Committee without any formal statements or discussion on Black's resume or background. It was clear, however that her choice of Black for Martin Middle School Principal was enthusiastic. The committee also voted to approve the hiring without any formal discussion.
"I'm glad to be here," said Black. "It's important to have fun, I can't wait to get started," he said. Black's wife and three children were with him at the meeting. Martin's interim principal, Robert Perry, presented Black with a Martin sweatshirt and a supportive welcome. "On behalf of the faculty, staff, students and everyone at Martin, we are thrilled to have Bill Black as our new principal," said Perry.
Perry will return to his former position of Assistant Principal at Martin. Perry was an applicant for the Martin position. He was named interim principal to replace former principal Fatima Avila who was assigned to the Silver Spring elementary school to improve the administration of that school. A former middle school administrator in the district, Dr. Michael Almeida, also applied for the job at Martin.
"I am very excited to have Mr. Black here," said Ward 4 school committee member Jessica Beauchaine. "I thank Mr. Perry, you have done an amazing job. We appreciate you stepping up. You'll make a good team," she told Black and Perry. Black will begin at Martin in January.
Substitute Teachers Get Slight Raise
The school committee voted to raise the pay of a substitute teacher in the city from $80 to $90 per day. The action comes after the committee had previously rejected a similar plan about a year ago. Personnel Director Cheryl Mammone said the change in pay is needed to keep substitute teachers interested in staying in the city. The new rate will place substitute teachers just above the minimum wage for Rhode Island workers. The $90 per day rate equates to about $13 per hour. Substitutes in Pawtucket and Providence and some other districts receive $100.00 per day. East Providence substitutes who work in the same position for 10 days consecutively or more will be bumped to a daily rate of $125. A similar request to increase the daily rate of substitute nurse-teachers to $200 was tabled. "I'd like to see some further data regarding an advantage to doing this," said committee member Joel Monteiro. That matter will be revisited by the committee.
Police Nab Final Rumford Robbery Suspect
The East Providence Police released a statement on Sunday, December 10th stating that the 2nd suspect in a string of Rhode Island and Massachusetts armed robberies was arrested. On 12/10/17 the East Providence, Pawtucket, Taunton, and Raynham Police Departments jointly reported the arrest of a 17 year old Massachusetts juvenile as the second suspect in the string of robberies and stabbing that occurred over the past weeks.
A second suspect, a juvenile, juvenile turned himself in at the Taunton Police Department. The juvenile will be facing charges relating to the robberies in Pawtucket, Taunton, and Raynham, as well as the robbery and stabbing that occurred at the Town Wine and Spirits store in East Providence, on December 2nd.
"The results of this investigation are a direct result of the cooperation, professionalism, dedication, and efforts of the investigators from East Providence, Pawtucket, Taunton, and Raynham, who have worked tirelessly to bring an end to this violent robbery spree," said Lt. Detective Raymond Blinn of the East Providence Police.
Police from four communities had pooled their resources to search for the robbery/assault suspects. The suspects also dropped a key fob to their getaway car in East Providence that police used in their investigation. The first suspect was being held in Taunton on $1-million bail. It is expected that he will be facing extradition and charges of robbery and assault with a deadly weapon by East Providence Police.
Charter Review Chair, James Russo, to run for Mayor
East Providence has a third announced candidate for its first-ever elected full time Mayor. Chairman of the East Providence Charter Review Commission, Jim Russo, has sent out a social media message that he will run for the job. Russo is an attorney and former Assistant City Solicitor.
"In recent weeks, I have received inquiries as to whether I was going to run for the office of Mayor of the City of East Providence in 2018. To answer this question before the holiday season gets into full swing and end any speculation, I have decided to run and will formally announce my candidacy for this office in mid-to-late January. In the meantime, I will be doing the usual things candidates do before this type of event; building a campaign team, fundraising, etc.," said the statement by Russo. "I would like to express my sincere thanks to all those who encouraged me to run and provided their counsel in helping me make this decision. Your support and friendship mean the world to me."
Russo joins two previously announced candidates, Bob DaSilva and Nicholas Oliver. The election will be held in November of 2018. East Providence voters have overwhelmingly approved a change in its form of government. Moving from a five-member city council and an appointed City Manager to a full time elected Mayor, the city will soon operate similar to others with an elected Mayor like Providence, Warwick, Cranston, etc. The five member council will remain but with a different role.
Russo was Chairman of the Charter Commission which set forth provisions and guideline recommendations for the new Mayor's office. Russo also was former Chief of Staff for US Congressman Bob Weygand and was Weygand's Chief of Staff when Weygand was Rhode Island Lieutenant Governor.
Rodericks to seek Council-at-Large Seat
Bob Rodericks has announced his intention to run for the East Providence City Council-at-Large seat in November, 2018. Current office holder, James Briden, is not seeking re-election. Rodericks is retired and previously worked for the city school department as Truant Officer and Student Registration Director for 30 years.
"I am announcing my candidacy to seek the East Providence City Council-At-Large seat. With At-Large Councilman James Briden not running for re-election, the opportunity exists for some new candidates to step forward. At a time when the city will be electing its first-ever full time Mayor, our government will be drastically changing. It will be important for an honest and thoughtful check & balance process between a city council and new Mayor. The November 2018 election will be historic for EP and while constructive criticism and healthy debate is okay, petty bickering and frivolous argument is not helpful when conducting the public's business.
I have held a keen interest in government and civic pride since my first 8th grade civics course at Central Junior High school (now Martin). Ever since then I have been busy in some capacity with community involvement. I maintain that zeal for East Providence to this day.
I know that most of us reject the notion of negative and dishonest politics that we often see. We long for a return to civil, respectful and honest debate by our elected officials. Badgering and special interest agendas are not in the best interest of taxpayers. When used properly, politics can be a good tool to effectively serve the public at large. We need to provide our residents with top notch education, public safety, quality services (streets, recreation, water, etc.) to mention just a few concerns.
Prior elected officials, in my opinion, have neglected to properly maintain our city infrastructure. Also, millions of dollars have been sadly spent on employee settlements and legal services for a multitude of lawsuits against our city. This must not continue. Townie Pride has been badly wounded and although it has made a recent comeback, I want to see it fully restored!
The best path to good government involves full transparency between elected officials and the people they serve. While I understand that certain confidential matters may need to be discussed in private. All votes of the people's business must occur in public, at legally advertised meetings.
East Providence is still a city with excellent and dedicated police, fire, teachers and various other workers, whom strive to serve us well. I know that the majority of residents in EP support good government. I am asking that together we improve the decorum and professionalism of our city government and move EP forward. I am convinced that the young families in our city are ready to step up and lead. Many of you I have known through local sports and schools and other community activities. I am convinced that you are ready to become a new generation of leaders. Combine that spirit with the old-school knowledge of our older residents and we can have a winning combination.
I look forward to campaigning after the holiday season and please contact me if you would like to help in this regard. Many important issues lie ahead. I've set up a campaign email address at email@example.com. I am also on Facebook. I will release a more detailed resume and campaign information after the New Year. Let us simply have no special agendas but let's just do what is right for EP!"
Rodericks, 63, lives with his wife, Diane on Plum Road in the city. They have four children and two grandchildren. Rodericks is also a regular contributor to the East Providence Reporter.
School Board Member Cahoon to seek Ward 3 Council Seat
Nathan Cahoon, currently a Ward Three School Committee member has announced that he is a candidate for the Ward Three City Council seat in the November 2018 election. That seat is now held by Joe Botelho. "I'll be seeking election to the East Providence City Council in 2018. I will seek to represent the constituents of my neighborhood, right here in Ward 3," said Cahoon in a social media statement. "I've enjoyed my time on the School Committee, and I'd like to think I've contributed some to the improvement of our schools. But I'm ready for a new challenge. If you'll have me, I'll continue working as hard for you as I have over the past three-plus years. I believe in this City, I love the people, and I want to do everything I can to make us the envy of Rhode Island, if not the world," Cahoon added.
Cahoon is chairing the committee looking into the construction of a new high school in East Providence. He is an advocate for placing the issue on the November ballot for the public to decide. "Everyone will have all the information necessary to make an informed decision on the needs of our high school and community going forward," Cahoon said at a recent council meeting. "The voters will know everything that we know."
Cahoon is a 1993 graduate of East Providence High School. He graduated number two academically in his class and is a graduate of Brown University. Cahoon also received an appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy. In 2006 Cahoon earned a Master’s Degree in Bioinformatics from Northeastern University in 2006. He taught Advanced Placement and Introductory Biology at Classical High School and has worked for as a Desk Pilot and Power Point Engineer for the United States Air Force. He is currently working for the U.S. General Service Administration.
"I'm running for city council because I'm convinced I can do the job. I'll bring to the office leadership honed by eight years as a military officer; understanding of Government budgets and funding streams gained over two decades in public service; and an unmatched dedication to the men, women and children of this community. I'm the guy for the job, and I look forward to proving it in the next year," Cahoon said.
Cahoon has been a strong supporter of educational needs of the community. "East Providence public schools gave me the opportunity to attend Brown University, and to earn a commission in the United States Air Force. I will continue to do all I can to ensure the same opportunities exist for our kids today," he told The Reporter.
"It takes long days and longer nights to make sure the team is ready when opportunity calls. And it never hurts to have a knack for problem solving when those unforeseeable issues arise. My entire professional career has prepared me for this important role. My time as a Captain in the United States Air Force honed my leadership skills. Also, my experience in the Federal Government has helped me learn to navigate the tricky waters of law and budget cycles to complete the mission while ensuring best value for the American taxpayer," continued Cahoon. Cahoon lives on Greenwich Avenue with his wife, Jennifer Gillooly Cahoon and their two children.