Citizens question auditor qualifications
A citizens group that regularly attends City Council meetings and has made a practice of commenting on operations of the Warwick Sewer Authority and the city’s “legacy costs” in terms of pension and other post-retirement employee expenses, has launched a new campaign questioning the qualifications of Council Auditor Catherine King Avila.
The group plans to disseminate flyers this weekend in the wards of Camille Vella-Wilkinson, Ward 2, who chairs the council’s Finance Committee, and Donna Travis, Ward 6, who is council president.
“We’re not giving up on this,” said Roger Durand, a member of the group. “This is the kind of thing we attend council meetings for.”
Durand said when the city posted the 19-hour position paying $30,450 a year, job specifications required that applicants possess 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 or training.
But Durand says according to information obtained from the city’s Personnel Director Jane Jordan by group member John Kennedy, King Avila is not a certified public accountant and does not have a master’s in business administration.
The flyer that will be dropped door-to-door in the two wards asks, “How is Councilwoman Vella-Wilkinson looking out for your tax dollars?” It goes on to say that according to the information obtained by Kennedy, the auditor “has none of the experience that was required.”
Vella-Wilkinson, who has a law degree and a master’s in labor relations, defended the selection of King Avila, who she said has lived up to expectations.
Going into the process, Vella-Wilkinson said, there were few applications for the opening, and the decision was made to also look at applications for the full-time auditor’s position being filled by the city administration.
She said she reviewed about 80 applications, narrowing the field to six finalists. Using the Internet for research, she then established five core competencies on which the candidates would be judged with a rating from 0 to 5, with 5 being the highest.
She said all the candidates were asked the same questions and the three conducting the interviews independently rated the candidates without any discussion between them.
Vella-Wilkinson said she, Travis and Theresa Cehelsky of the personnel department all picked King Avila as the preferred candidate.
Asked why King Avila had not been disqualified on the basis that she failed to meet criteria listing the in-job posting, Vella-Wilkinson said she was docked points for not having that experience, but that she scored higher in other areas.
“You’re hiring an individual, not a résumé,” she said.
Travis said King Avila “came in with a lot of information, she really seemed like she knew what she was doing.”
One of the six finalists was Roy Dempsey, a retired auditor from the Department of Defense. Dempsey is a regular at council meetings and has been involved with leafleting on issues espoused by Durand, Kennedy, former Councilman Robert Cushman and Robert Cote.
According to Vella-Wilkinson, Dempsey was ranked third of the five candidates eventually interviewed.
“We scored her [King Avila] unanimously as number one and their candidate as number three,” Vella-Wilkinson said.
King Avila’s qualifications and selection have raised questions from council members. As the auditor would be working with the full council, Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur said Tuesday, “I think we should have had interviews with the top candidates.” Ladouceur wants to see copies of the résumés of the 80 job applicants and the names of the six finalists.
“I’m absolutely looking into this. How did this come down?” he asks.
“I’m waiting to cast my verdict,” said Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon.
He said he has asked King Avila to perform several tasks and he is waiting to see whether she does her due diligence.