Botelho seeks special session on East Providence firefighter application saga
Calls for review of personnel board, adminstrators actions
EAST PROVIDENCE — In another scathing press release, this one issued on Thursday, Feb. 16, Ward 3 city councilman Joe Botelho called for a special session of the body to discuss the recent controversial decision of the personnel board and human resources department to rescind the just-completed firefighters application process.
As he did two days earlier in a similar release calling for the reinstatement of fired city manager Richard Kirby, Thursday Mr. Botelho challenged his fellow councilors to review the matter thoroughly and consider the ramifications of the actions taken.
The search for new firefighters began in the middle of last year with an application process. Testing followed and new recruits were eventually chosen and notified by the end of 2016. Those recruits were then supposed to start at a state-run academy last month.
However, by last month both the personnel board and later HR director Kathleen Waterbury deemed the process void because of numerous supposed missteps, most notably how it was advertised originally and how then acting HR director Ray Benoit scored the testing results. Ms. Waterbury was not involved in the process after having been fired earlier in 2016 by Mr. Kirby, who himself was terminated by the prior seated council in August of last year. Mr. Benoit, a former city employee in the same role, was brought in to replace Ms. Waterbury on an interim basis by acting city manager Tim Chapman.
The city council held a contentious discussion on the matter at its February 7 meeting, where Mr. Botelho was among those to express reservations with the actions of the personnel board, Ms. Waterbury and Mr. Chapman.
The full transcript of Mr. Botelho’s release is as follows:
I have requested that the City Council have a special meeting to review the policies, procedures, and practices utilized by the City and the Fire Department in the manner in which it originally established the list for individuals to be admitted into the Fire Training Academy scheduled for March 2017. This should include a thorough investigation of the role of the HR Director and the Acting City Manager.
There are a number of issues that I believe need to reviewed and evaluated, including the following:
1. The manner in which the recruitment process was conducted, and whether it was consistent with historical practice and procedure
2. The impact that abandonment of the current list has on the recruitment on minorities into the fire department
3. The manner in which the acting City Manager made representations to the Council on Tuesday evening, February 7th, and specifically, his invocation of Section 11.64 (e) regarding the examination process, specifically the written test, as well as Section 11.64 (g), which establishes that one must obtain “70 as a total cumulative score” for the final examination, which includes a (1) written test; (2) oral test; (3) performance test; (4) physical test; and (5) a competitive evaluation. It is my understanding that these five (5) components make up what is called “the final score” for a candidate, and it is intended, (in accordance with section G of the ordinances) to be based on all tests and evaluations in the examination.
4. The manner in which the City decided to lower the written test scores by five (5) points, and whether the five (5) points have been applied to all candidates to ensure that no discrimination existed with respect to that. A subset of this issue is who made that determination, when the determination was made, why it was made, and whether it was consistent with the manner in which the City’s HR office has operated.
5. Why the Personnel Hearing Board on January 10,2017 agreed to approve the list as originally proposed, and then without further inquiry or explanation, decided to “reverse itself” on January 17, 2017? What prompted this switch? Who was involved in the decision making with respect to same? Who recommended this and why was it recommended?
6. What is the impact on the fire department’s operating budget as a result of the delay of the fire academy as originally envisioned for March 2017? How much additional overtime will be required as a result of this delay?
7. Because of the mysterious manner in which the original list has been discarded. I would like to suggest that we hire an independent outside counsel to coordinate an immediate and thorough investigation of these issues in order to determine whether there has been any “atypical” influence causing the HR Director and acting City Manager in proposing to abandon the original list for the Fire Academy.
If we have any conscience left on this council we owe to the aspirants for these positions. who were discarded like yesterday’s newspaper, with no regard for their efforts. I’d like to think we’re better than that.