East Providence council denies Kirby reappointment

Also fans flames on smoldering fire application saga

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EAST PROVIDENCE — At its meeting Tuesday night, Feb. 21, the East Providence City Council seemingly penned its final chapter in a long-simmering drama while at the same time the body kept the book open on another saga.

Following a week of dueling press releases on the topic and a tense discussion Tuesday filled with enough innuendo to make the best gossip columnist blush, the council on a 3-2 vote shot down the notion of returning Richard Kirby to his former position as city manager.

The tally was the same as when the previous council sacked Mr. Kirby back in August of last year. The move Tuesday was backed by councilors Bobby Britto, who also voted against Mr. Kirby’s removal six months ago, and Joe Botelho, who authored a press statement on the matter last week. Councilors Brian Faria, Anna Sousa and Jim Briden were in opposition.

The heated exchange included charges and countercharges being levied against each other Messrs. Britto, Botelho and Faria with words like “bullying” and “transparency” bandied about.

At one particularly charged moment, Mr. Britto said to Mr. Faria, “Do I have to treat you with kid gloves, Brian?” Mr. Faria responded, “Bobby, you don’t know how to have a conversation.”

Mr. Botelho, who in his release intimated Mr. Faria had campaigned last fall on reappointing Mr. Kirby, tossed a verbal volley at his Ward 4 counterpart, wondering if he had “got something from Mr. Chapman?”

Mr. Botelho was referring to Mr. Faria’s calling for a performance hearing on acting city manager Tim Chapman’s status last month, then abruptly deciding not to call for another meeting once the initial forum was canceled on a technicality.

Mr. Faria, matched the tone of his colleague’s comment by asking Mr. Botelho if he had eaten with Mr. Chapman twice recently and who paid for those meals?

At another particularly charged moment, Mr. Britto said to Mr. Faria, “Do I have to treat you with kid gloves, Brian?” Mr. Faria responded, “Bobby, you don’t know how to have a conversation.” He also told Mr. Britto, “You’re just mad you’re not the mayor.”

But with Mr. Kirby and a small cadre of his supporters in the audience, the vote eventually ended in the same fashion as it did last summer.

Putting a period on the matter, Mr. Britto, at meeting’s end, said it was time to move on from any future discussion and congratulated Tim Chapman for remaining as acting city manager going forward.

“We have a city manager here,” Mr. Britto said, directing his remarks to Mr. Chapman. “It’s time for us to move forward whether I agreed with him or otherwise. It’s time for us to move the city forward and not have that cloud over his head whether it’s a 3-2 vote to remove somebody. I think at this point it’s time to back our city manager.”

The ball is now firmly in Mr. Kirby’s court. It is to be determined if he take any legal action, most likely a wrongful termination suit against the city, or if he will attempt to collect unemployment compensation, which would likely be contested by the city because he was dismissed not on amicable terms.

Reached after the meeting for comment, Mr. Kirby said the following, “I’m going to pursue a ‘whistle-blower’ complaint, a wrongful termination suit against the City of East Providence in the near future, of course. I didn’t want to do that, but at this point I feel as though I have to.”

Mr. Kirby added on the seemingly official end to his tenure as manager, “There’s no way I would ever go back now. I wouldn’t go back for all the tea in China. I could never work with that council, that group of people.”

The story still continuing to unfold Tuesday was that of the contested recent application and testing processes to hire new firefighters.

It was deemed by the East Providence personnel board over two meetings in January that the advertising for the applications wasn’t sufficient and that a decision by someone in the administration to scale down the grading of the written test failed to comply with the city charter.

Again, after some testy talk between the council and city solicitor Greg Dias, who presented the group with a host of legal reasons why the process needed to be redone, and Mr. Chapman and fire chief Oscar Elmasian, the body agreed on a resolution calling for the East Providence personnel board to reconvene to not only approve the minutes of two January 2017 meetings on the matter, but also review any new evidence in the case and rehear the matter if necessary. The council is seeking the board meeting minutes to review at its March 7 meeting.

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