November 1, 2014
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Council to now vote on auditor
Avila already in job, says flyer campaign filled with misinformation

City Council President Donna Travis said last Wednesday that the council will vote on the appointment of its auditor, Catherine King Avila, an action that it failed to take when Avila assumed the 19-hour job paying $30,450.

“We didn’t know it had to be approved,” Travis said.

Travis and Camille Vella-Wilkinson, D-Ward 3 and chair of the council finance committee, picked Avila from five finalists for the post.

Soon after, John Kennedy, who regularly attends council meetings, looked into the job specification requirements and learned that Avila did not have a bachelor’s degree from a four-year college with specialization in accounting or business administration with a CPA or MBA preferred, and at least six years of related work experience in business.

In May, Kennedy and others who are regulars at council meetings circulated flyers in Wards 3 and 6 citing the selection and asking how the two councilwomen were “looking out for your tax dollars?”

The questioning escalated at last month’s council meeting when it was revealed that the full council failed to vote on the appointment.

“They’re making such a big deal of this,” Travis said of fellow council members Steve Merolla (D-Ward 9), Joseph Solomon (D-Ward 4) and Ed Ladouceur (D-Ward 5).

Travis said previous council appointments hadn’t required the full council’s appointment, and she was following the process. Now that the council’s legal counsel, John Harrington, has determined a vote is needed, Travis said she would put the matter on the consent calendar for the second meeting of this month.

Travis called the line of questioning over Avila’s selection aggravating.

“It’s as if something shady is going on,” she said.

Vella-Wilkinson defends the selection process and the choice of Avila.

In a telephone interview Thursday, she pointed out how after receiving few applicants for the position, it was suggested she look at those who had applied for a full-time auditor’s job with the city. She reviewed about 80 applications and then, using a selection process that rated the candidates on five core competencies, narrowed the field to those interviewed.

In addition to the two councilwomen, Director of Personnel Jane Jordan and a member of her staff conducted the interviews. All candidates were asked the same questions, and using the rating system, the panel ranked the candidates. Avila was first.

Vella-Wilkinson said she was unaware of the required council vote until it was brought up at the August meeting.

“I’m perfectly fine with a vote; let’s do it and move on,” she said.

Vella-Wilkinson is also comfortable with Avila’s selection, pointing out that her experience in state and municipal work makes her the most qualified candidate.

Avila served as state deputy general treasurer for the administration finance budget for more than six years; has worked with Ernest Almonte when he was state auditor general; done budget and auditing work for Secretary of State Ralph Mollis; and served on the Warren Town Council for eight years and five years with the Warren-Bristol Regional School District Finance Committee.

Reached by telephone last week, Avila said she is disturbed by what she characterized as a “nasty” campaign against her that is filled with inaccuracies and a failure to give a complete picture of her qualifications.

She pointed out that her critics – Kennedy and others in his group that are distributing flyers without attribution to their source – harp on the fact that she has a degree in psychology. While that is true, she said she never practiced psychology. Also, she notes, she has a law degree, which her critics fail to mention.

“People are running around defaming me,” she said.

Avila noted that Kennedy and the group have copies of her résumé and know of her state and municipal experience, yet choose to omit it.

She said she is “also troubled by the suggestion that I knew these people.” She did not meet either Travis or Vella-Wilkinson until she was being considered as a candidate for the job.

“They are out there debasing my reputation,” she said. “I would never do to any of them what they are doing to me.”

Meanwhile, there is an underlying current that the citizens group is stirring up the issue because one of their own, Roy Dempsey, was not picked for the job. Dempsey, one of those interviewed, is now the campaign manager for Stacia Petri, who is challenging Mayor Scott Avedisian in the Republican primary Sept. 9.

Asked yesterday whether he remains interested in the position, Dempsey said, “Right now, I’m an outsider looking at what’s happening.” Having looked at the video of the last council meeting, he said, “There’s no question how the vote is going to go.” He expects the council will affirm Avila’s selection.

Avila said she is very familiar with municipal and state budgets and that she has been working on databases so that council members have a complete picture of city expenses. She said she hopes her work will give a clear explanation of major expenditures.

To date, she said, she said she is disappointed that more council members have not called on her to research issues on their behalf.

“I would be pleased to work more closely with the council,” she said.

Vella-Wilkinson said she is pleased with Avila’s work. Travis gave her a similar endorsement.

Solomon said he hasn’t made a decision on how he would vote on Avila’s appointment.

“I haven’t seen all the résumés,” he said. “I’ll make a decision after looking at all the facts.”

Avila sees the vote as simply an up-or-down decision on her appointment.

“You can’t reopen this process,” she said. She said that would be unfair to other candidates who may not have informed their current employers that they are looking for another job.

That’s not the way Ladouceur sees it.

“I want to see who are the top six candidates and their qualifications,” he said yesterday. “I think the options should be presented to the council.”


Comments
8 comments on this item

Yes Donnaaaaaaaaaaaa this is a very big deal because thw woman is not qualified. What don't you get ????????????

How on earth is Donna Travis council president? It's just one embarrassment after another with this lady.

As I posted in the last letter to the editor, "they will concoct a method to have an after the fact vote" Travis, the pea brain council president.

Get over it!!! You can see from the above comments what this "citizen's group" is all about. Personal attacks, anonymous flyer campaigns, and cherry picking information to benefit their own agenda. They are 10 times worse than any of the politicians/city workers they attack. Stacia just lost my vote, she should keep better company.

Hey Ward5resident......I thought as an elected member of the city council you wouldn't be voting in the republican primary....good bluff

Ladouceur is right. The council should look at the finalists and vote.

Here's the problem(s):

1) Donna Travis is the Council President & Councilwoman Wilkinson is head of the Finance Committee. However, they don't have the authority, by themselves or as a group of two, to make this or other issues relating Council activities/decisions, in my opinion, on MOST if not all decisions. If prior job selections/appointments were determined as stated by Councilwoman Travis, this process should stop.

2) The posted job position, according to the article, had only a few applicants. Hopefully the job candidate/selection was an applicant for the position. if the position only received 5 applicants, they should be the ONLY ones considered for the position; if NONE appeared to be qualified, Councilwoman Travis should have indicated this to the Council & then, subject to Council approval, she would request that Councilwoman Wilkinson would review job applicants for a similar City full time auditor's position/maybe a reposting would be necessary or applicants for the full time position COULD be made aware of the position's availability for them to possibly apply for . The posted position should have indicated that if educational requirements were not met, satisfactory work experience would suffice, as determined by the interviewers(the City Council).

Ms. Avila, from the article, may have the necessary credentials/work experience for the job, however, that's not MY call.

I don't have any reason to question or doubt either Councilwoman Travis or Wilkinson; they both are involved in their respective positions & on behalf of the taxpayers/constituents of Warwick/their Ward's. However, there is the PERCEPTION that this MAY NOT have been an open process.

I also realize that not all ordinances/regulations/rules can be known of by any one government official off the top of one's head at any given moment(there are SO many); the City Council(& the Mayor) should review any possible requirements concerning government regulations & where there MAY be possible conflicts/violations regarding City Council/City matters.

My suggestion(s) may seem time consuming; however, there needs to be a more open process regarding Council appointments, ordinances, etc. It will likely be a work in process until improvements can/will be made to the process.

Hopefully, once this is achieved, the Council can devote more of their time to MORE important matters such as potholes that need to be repaired & watching/balancing the City Budget.

Hey "Reality" really, I'm flattered. I am not an elected official, if you want to continue to think I am - so be it. People are starting to see what this group is all about. The crying tantrum being played out in front of the entire city because Mr Dempsey didn't get the job is rather amusing. However, attacking this woman and dragging her reputation through the mud, for your own personal gain, is down right disgusting.

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