City Manager to Finance Director: "You're Undermining Me..."
The side effects from City Human Resource Director Kathleen Waterbury's resignation and her $575,000 harassment lawsuit settlement against East Providence was evident at Wednesday's January 3rd city council meeting.
The council and City Manager Tim Chapman agreed to look into restructuring the Human Resource department. In a meeting which featured several acrimonious moments between some council members, the council and a small group of meeting attendees sat in rapt silence as City Manager Chapman chastised City Finance Director Malcolm Moore.
Moore was called to the council podium by Ward 4 Councilman Brian Faria to discuss the history of events leading to changes in payroll and other functions as it pertained to the HR department. "I thought this would be a good time to look at the HR department," said Faria. "The HR Director and the number two person (in HR) is also out for awhile. This is a great concern to us. The Trust (insurance) settled this (Waterbury complaint) and didn't cost the taxpayer anything," Faria said. Faria opined that the HR department could possibly do with less staff when compared to other comparable cities.
Finance Director Moore told the council that former Manager Kirby had discussions with him on cutting the HR staff through attrition due to department automation in payroll. "Unfortunately it never happened as Kirby was let go," further explained Moore. Moore then said that city payroll functions have moved "back to tax collection within the last year." Moore said he had also had these HR and payroll functions in his area.
"Let's talk about the fact that payroll was in treasury (department) for about 30 years," Chapman said in response to a Faria request to comment. In a move that seemed to catch everyone off guard, Chapman then sternly addressed his City Finance Director. "I know, Malcolm, that you disagree with me on just about everything that we try to move forward with this city and that you were very happy with the last situation because that got another person out of your office. Unfortunately we were trying to combine jobs, make things easier, and give your office more support," said Chapman. "As we continue down this road, of you continuing to undermine me, I'd appreciate it if you could talk to me when you have conversations with others about how we should run the city," finished Chapman.
Several long seconds of silence followed the Chapman reprimand as Moore stood stoically at the podium and didn't comment. Chapman then told Faria that he would be comfortable in "going back to an HR Director instead of me being the Director. I would say that HR may be overstaffed but I would prefer to have a new HR Director make a recommendation. I think we could cut back and I think the prior HR Director (Waterbury) had that opinion as well," said Chapman. "There are some things that need to be looked at in the HR Department," Chapman added.
The HR Department has been the focal point of controversy for City Hall in recent years. In addition to former Director Waterbury's harassment claim, city employee Lita Garrett has filed a three-count lawsuit with the Rhode Island Superior Court. The 15 page complaint alleges that Garrett has sustained "injuries and losses due to the unlawful conduct of the City of East Providence and its agents and employees." Veteran attorney, Thomas J. McAndrew filed the lawsuit demanding that East Providence "adequately compensate her for her losses, both economic and non-economic, including but not limited to her loss of earnings, out-of-pocket expenses, and reasonable attorneys fees..."
Garrett and McAndrew allege that her "losses" occurred as a result of actions within the Department of Human Resources in City Hall. The complaint states that Garrett is suing the City of East Providence and Kathleen Waterbury "individually, and in her official capacity as the Director of Human Resources of the City of East Providence."
Garrett cites three legal counts for her lawsuit, the RI Fair Employment Act; RI Civil Rights Act & Whistleblower Protection Act. The lawsuit alleges that "The City of East Providence is liable for the acts of Waterbury..." The complaint is for actions between diverse dates of February 1, 2013 through July 2, 2015.
The lawsuit states that "Garrett was demoted and transferred from the Human Resource Department to the Highway Department. Her place of work was changed, her duties and responsibilities were downgraded, the number of hours she worked each week were increased, she was subjected to a reduction in pay, and other terms and conditions against Ms. Garrett were adversely affected." The Garrett complaint is believed to be pending.
After the meeting, Director Moore declined to comment about Manager Chapman's comments.