September News Briefs
City Managers Come and Go
The Looff carousel in Riverside isn't the only merry-go-round in East Providence these days. There is a carousel of top level management employees within City Hall on Taunton avenue. Things have changed in the once All-America City. The once famous Coney Island System across the street has been closed for over a year and residents need a scorecard to learn names and faces in city management. East Providence residents once used to experience long terms with their City Managers like Earl Sanquist and Paul Lemont. Recently they have known four managers in five years. "Managers here are like sports managers, they are hired to be fired," said one longtime City Hall employee.
Current and now former city manager Richard Kirby was fired last month after less than a year on the job. The five member city council unanimously hired Kirby who came to the city with prodding from influential State House recommendations. Kirby was the former RI Senate Finance Committee attorney. That finance committee is chaired by State Senator Dan DaPonte.
Sources within media circles have said that Kirby fell out of favor with some in city government and some political operatives behind the scenes. The Council suspended City Manager Richard Kirby from his duties on August 11, 2016. When the Council began the steps needed to eventually fire Kirby, they cited several reasons in their advertised ordinance to suspend: "WHEREAS, that the City Council of the City of East Providence at this meeting of the said City Council votes to remove the City Manager, Richard Kirby and he is hereby removed effective thirty (30) days after the date of adoption of this resolution for the following reasons: 1. Failure to investigate allegations by a City employee of sexual harassment, retaliation and discrimination pursuant to the City’s Sexual Harassment Policy exposing the City to potential substantial liability. 2. Due to the failure of performing charge #1, unnecessary costs totaling, to date, approximately $150,000.00 of City funds have been appropriated in the termination process of a City employee violating her due process rights. 3. Insubordination for failure to respond to City Council members repeated telephone calls and e-mails. 4. Violating City Charter by hiring outside legal counsel at City expense. 5. Violating Rhode Island state law by waiving interest and/or penalties of taxpayers. 6. Violating Rhode Island state law by removing taxpayers from City tax sale. 7. Failure to take any action to address an alleged violation of the City’s Sexual Harassment Policy. 8. Failure to abide by Hiring Resolution No. 31 by authorizing and allocating the amount of $7,319.55 to former Acting City Manager Paul Lemont in the form of “unused vacation time” when Paragraph #3 of said Resolution called for no benefits to be paid. Voting to suspend Kirby were Mayor Tom Rose, Councilwoman Tracy Capobianco and Councilman Tim Conley. Opposing the move was Councilman Bob Britto and Councilman Helder Cunha.
During a meeting later in August, the council failed to name an acting manager to replace Kirby as they planned. Ward One councilman Bob Britto, normally reserved at council meetings, was a very vocal critic of the initial attempt to appoint city solicitor Tim Chapman as acting city manager. "I don't think solicitor Chapman should wear two hats, that of acting manager and solicitor. There are too many issues in the City and its budget time," said Britto. Since suspending Kirby at its' August 11th meeting, the city has had no top executive to conduct business. "I put this on the docket for tonight because we have no one to go to for city problems or constituent requests," said Councilwoman Tracy Capobianco. "You should have thought of that when you fired the Manager," retorted Ward 1 Councilman Bob Britto. "You put this on the docket (to appoint Chapman) knowing you had three votes to do so," continued Britto to loud applause from the 65 people in attendance at City Hall.
"No I don't know how anyone else will vote," said Tracy Capobianco. "I put this on the agenda so we can discuss it. I'd be in violation if I discussed this with other members in private," said Capobianco. City attorney for the meeting, Gregory Dias, agreed with Capobianco that she couldn't discuss the matter other than at public session.
Britto went on to say that he would have added the name of Jeanne M. Boyle, veteran Planning Director for the City. "She is much better prepared to be acting manager than our attorney and she has done it before," added Britto. "She is excellent. No one can carry her pocketbook," Britto said to laughter and applause.
For most of that August meeting there were several shout outs from the audience prompting Mayor Tom Rose to call for order. At one point, longtime council critic Tom Riley was asked by the police to sit and refrain from speaking out to the council from his seat.
As the discussion got confusing on the resolution to name an Acting Manager, Capobianco agreed to amend her resolution request. The Council called for a recess and after apparently clearing up the parliamentary procedure in the private chamber room, the meeting was resumed with a compromise.
On a 5-0 vote the Council agreed to name solicitor Tim Chapman as a "Point of Contact" in City Hall for the Council members. They agreed to meet later in the month to select an acting city manager, presumably from a larger pool of candidates than one.Ward 3 Council candidate Candy Seel told the Council that they were "subjecting the City to a lot of potential grief. You suspended the City Manager and he has a right to a public hearing. This wasn't planned all that well," added Seel. Seel is running for the Ward Three seat held by Tom Rose who is not seeking reelection. Seel has come close the last two elections to defeating Rose. Former Councilman Joe Botelho is also running for that seat.
Regular city council watchdog Scott Scienzo told the Council that "I am in despair and shock at the Kangaroo Court-like action of this City Council. Because Mr. Kirby went after Mayor Rose, he in turn was suspended. Kirby has cleaned up a lot in City Hall," added Scienzo.
"Our attention to very important matters in the City has been diverted because of this Kirby firing," said Britto. The meeting was supervised by a contingent of at least 6 police officers including the Chief. "Just in case," said one police officer.
Eventually, at a rare special Sunday evening meeting on August 21st, solicitor Tim Chapman was named acting or interim city manager. The vote went along the same divided lines with councilors Tom Rose, Tim Conley and Tracy Capobianco voting to approve and councilman Bob Britto and Helder Cunha voting against the appointment. The same arguments were presented for and against. Mayor Tom Rose and Capobianco and Conley cited the pressing business of city budgets and other matters as the reason "for making this move quickly." "Those are exactly the reasons why you shouldn't have moved to fire Mr. Kirby," retorted Ward One councilman Bob Britto, with support from Helder Cunha. Britto could not receive council support to have veteran city planning director, Jeanne Boyle considered seriously for interim manager.
He Said-She Said
A late development is the confusion over who will negotiate the agreement for the Chapman appointment. Initially the council vote said that Chapman's contract would be written by school department Human Resources Director, Cheryl Silvia Mammone. The issue is convoluted as city HR Director, Kathleen Waterbury, has herself, been suspended and reinstated by a Court. Waterbury is supported by Mayor Tom Rose and that alliance is a major part of the Rose-Kirby rift. Kirby has accused Rose of interference with city management and employee issues. Complaints against Rose have also gone to the state ethics commission regarding Rose allegedly using his city influence to lease a truck without paying. That investigation is ongoing.
Mayor Rose has filed his own complaint against Helder Cunha for disclosure failures on his state mandated campaign finance reports. A company once owned by Cunha saw one of its officials convicted of fraud and in jail.
Waterbury has won a court battle but the war continues. District Court Judge William Smith ruled that Waterbury's termination be reversed for the moment and she should return to her post as HR Director. The Chief Judge of the District Court wrote in part that "Waterbury completed her six-month probationary period in August 2013. Because she could only be fired for cause after completing her probationary period, she had a property right in her continued employment and the City was required to afford her due process in her termination. There is no dispute that the City did not afford Ms. Waterbury 'notice and an opportunity to respond' as required."
Waterbury remains out of city hall but is receiving her salary pending a possible city appeal. She has accused former City Manager Lemont of sexual harassment and believes that Kirby did nothing when she reported it to him. Lemont was on board as a consultant to Kirby as Kirby assumed his new job.
Waterbury's court complaint against Lemont was indeed very edgy: "When I came to his office to speak about city business, he (Lemont) would ask me to twirl around so he could look me over. Paul Lemont also has made repeated comments about the Town Clerk’s physical attributes. From the time Mr. Lemont came on board in East Providence, his interactions with me have been highly inappropriate. In each instance when Mr. Lemont would see me, he would ask me if we could take a shower together," said Waterbury's public court complaint.
In a prior clash between Rose and Kirby, a meeting was scheduled to question the performance of manager Kirby. With two arms full of books and paperwork, Kirby addressed a council prepared to question him. "Mr. Mayor, I've been very professional to everyone I've dealt with in this city. I told you before, Mr. Mayor, that it was inappropriate for you to get involved with personnel at the level you have," said Kirby in a stern voice. "I've said you shouldn't constantly come to City Hall and get involved with directing staff, it's against the charter," continued Manager Kirby.
"I didn't direct, I asked questions according to section 2:1 of the charter," replied Rose. "Mr. Rose you have given orders to people in the city on how to carry out their duties," continued Kirby. Ward 2 councilman Helder Cunha asked Kirby to elaborate on the intimidation charges Kirby had made. "I think the reason we're here is to intimidate me," Kirby told the council. "Time and time again I received phone calls from you (Rose) about getting involved with staff," said Kirby. Rose continually responded that he was only asking questions, not giving orders.
As reported here earlier, an undercurrent throughout this period of time was the potential complaint of yet another city hall employee. Waterbury, herself, was named in a Human Rights Commission complaint. City Highway employee Lita Garrett, had filed a complaint against Waterbury, current Finance Director Malcolm Moore and former City Manager Paul Lemont.
Garrett was transferred to the Highway Department from her long time HR role by Paul Lemont. A transfer, Garrett alleges, was in retaliation because of discussion of possible legal action in a hiring matter. She said that she is being blamed for giving out confidential information. Garrett claimed that Waterbury said she was involved in giving out information regarding an application for employment of a family member of the former Affirmative Action Officer. Garrett claimed in her complaint that she has "observed my superior Kathleen Waterbury engaged in inappropriate, unethical, and possibly illegal conduct in violation of state and federal law and the City Charter." Garrett, who is Black, believes that she has lost income in her job transfer and is a victim of racial and age discrimination.
Ward 3 Candidate Seel Responds:
"The decision of whether Mr. Chapman remains as City Solicitor while serving as Acting City Manager should not be left to negotiation," said Ward three council candidate Candy Seel. "Mr. Chapman could certainly choose to step down, at least temporarily, but the decision for him to remain at that post should not be his. It is the duty of the Council to make that call.
The position of City Manager, even in an acting capacity, is full-time, deserving of full-time attention, especially with the budget season upon us. The position of City Solicitor, although part-time, also requires significant attention, especially with the active and potential lawsuits against the city that the solicitor must address. Mr. Chapman also has a private law practice, and surely he must devote attention to that as well," added Mrs. Seel.
Despite some in the city not accepting it, consolidation between city and school department management positions has ended. Business, maintenance and finance were three large areas of responsibility which were merged between the two bodies but have been separated back to their original status. School department HR Director Cheryl Silvia Mammone no longer is dealing with the municipal side of city management. The school HR Director sent out a statement in which she verified that she is no longer the citywide HR Director and just works for the school system now. The ongoing personnel battles at city hall were obviously a factor in this action. Consolidation in the Maintenance and Finance departments has already taken place, yet employees are quick to point out that city and school workers join hands on many collaborative efforts "in the trenches."
State Control Revisited for EP?
With the soap opera of management concerns at city hall, some are wondering if the state budget commission which essentially ran the city may be asked to return. There is one remaining member of the statewide takeover of EP - Paul Luba. The state approved budget advisor was present at a school committee meeting last month and commented on potential raises for school employees. Luba wanted to know if the teacher raises of about 2.5% were "sustainable" and if any strong negotiations had reached that point. School superintendent Kathyrn Crowley announced during a budget work session that she was planning to issue a 2.5% raise for employees.
Raises would be financed by surpluses and increased state aid. At-large committee member Joel Monteiro and Ward three member Nate Cahoon said that they hoped East Providence teachers could get out of the bottom of the rankings in teacher pay. "It's about attracting and keeping good teachers," said Monteiro. "Our teacher's low pay has been detrimental to the best interest of our students," said Monteiro. Under prior school committees, East Providence teachers had pay and benefit slashes making them among the lowest paid teachers in New England. "There has been a turnover which we must stop," added Monteiro. As of now there are no known requests to return the state budget commission to East Providence.