Council votes no confidence in school finance director

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The Warwick City Council on Monday approved a resolution brought forward by Ward 8 Councilman Anthony Sinapi for a vote of no confidence in Warwick Public Schools Finance Director Anthony Ferrucci.

The vote passed 5-2, with Council President Steve Merolla, Ward 2 Councilman Jeremy Rix, Ward 3 Councilman Timothy Howe, Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur and Sinapi all voting in favor. Ward 1 Councilman Rick Corley and Ward 7 Councilman Stephen McAllister voted against the measure, while Ward 4 Councilman James McElroy abstained from the vote. Ward 8 Councilwoman Donna Travis was not present at the meeting due to illness.

“We need to have a confidence level that we can take to the bank that information is accurate for us to make the informed decisions that we need to make,” Ladouceur said prior to the vote. “Since I’ve been on this council, I haven’t seen that.”

Ladouceur recited multiple points of contention where he believes Ferrucci misled the council or otherwise misrepresented the financial facts he was called upon to explain, including his report that the schools were facing 21-percent increases in health insurance costs when the number was closer to 15 percent, and a disagreement that has arisen from mediation regarding the funding of the school’s private pension fund – where it was learned more than $4 million had been contributed since 2014 over the annual recommended contribution, or ARC.

Merolla echoed the pension issue as a major reason for his support of the no-confidence resolution. He said that Ferruci had indicated during mediation that money could be taken from the pension fund to bridge their fiscal deficit for the current year, but then, once they left mediation, he suddenly changed course and stated publicly that is not what he had meant. Ferrucci contends they asked him an open-ended question and he gave an equally open-ended answer.

“It makes it really hard not only to negotiate with the person sitting across from you when you know they were completely untruthful, but it makes it very difficult to look at their numbers and analyze what they actually need and what the kids need and the parents need and what the staff needs,” Merolla said.

Not all council members were on board with the resolution, however.

“I’ve gone back and forth on this a number of different times,” McAllister said. “I disagree with a number of things Mr. Ferrucci has done including the ARCs … but my concern is just the tone and the tenor of the way things have been going.”

“I think it’s time we stop with the blame game,” he continued. “Nobody has ever asked me who is to blame, they just want us to fix it … My opinion at this time I don’t think this is helpful, I don’t think this is going to change things either way. I would like to see the tone change.”

“I understand the frustration that has been voiced in the past, however I do not think it is serving any good purpose to point a finger at any employee of the Warwick School Department,” Corley said. However, he did add later: “Do not mistake my opposition to the resolution as a vote of confidence for the finance director of the school department.”

Sinapi said that he was hopeful the resolution would give the Warwick School Committee the ammunition necessary to take action against Ferrucci, but that it “in no way reflects my willingness to make things work” between the City Council and the school department.

School Committee Chairwoman Karen Bachus and Vice Chairwoman Judy Cobden responded to the resolution on Wednesday.

“I have my issues [with Ferrucci], but in the middle of a crisis like this is not the time to go looking for another finance director,” she said.

“If we need to get rid of someone, we do it on our terms,” Cobden said. “[The City Council is] not calling the shots.”

Reached on Wednesday, Ferrucci declined to comment on this story.

Comments

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Hillsgrove Hal

Councilman Sinapi thinks he's giving the school committee "ammunition."

Maybe he thinks they won't aim it at him.

But, for the sake of argument, let's go along with Sinapi's plan for a second.

The school committee fires Ferrucci (after what will probably be a protracted series of meetings and hearings because they can't just let him go) and hires a new finance director who's even less inclined to let the city council micromanage the school department.

Seriously, does the city council not understand the concept of foresight or considering the consequences of their actions?

Thursday, June 20
had enough

We are all victims of a giant shell game perpetrated upon us by the former Mayor and Council. They screamed LOOK AT THE SCHOOL SPENDING, LOOK AT STUDENT ENROLLMENT, LOOK AT THE TEACHERS CONTRACT. Meanwhile, shhh, no need to look at city spending, retirement plans are fine, do not worry about the crumbling infrastructure, pay no attention the fire department contract.

Thursday, June 20
cat

There is enough blame on both sides to go around. Why are you fighting about it instead of fixing it? However,if you want to stoop to this level, how about the school committee setting out a vote of no confidence for Solomon and Merolla?

Stop playing your political games for personal gain and start working to fix what is broken. If you can't do that, we will all work very hard to ensure you won't be re-elected to office again.

Thursday, June 20
Fed up

https://www.wpri.com/target-12/warwick-councilmans-campaign-treasurer-was-also-partner-in-accounting-firm-hired-by-council/

Thursday, June 20
PaulHuff

This is childish finger pointing and accomplishes nothing.

All of you, (Council, Mayor, School Committee) Fix the damn issues instead of blaming everyone else.

Thursday, June 20
vision

There does seem like a lot of finger pointing, but are pointing at the right parties. Everyone is getting blamed but the person who it seems has left Warwick in a financial mess, SCOTT AVEDESIAN. He has become the teflon man. Secret deals made over the years are now coming to a head.

Thursday, June 20
Hillsgrove Hal

vision, Solomon and the council have been blaming Avedisian for everything, including decisions they made.

They're in control now, and doing little to nothing to address the current situation, and instead trying to distract people from those facts.

They had multiple opportunities to stop Avedisian before, and didn't.

They've admitted to not reading past contracts; nothing was "secret," they just chose not to do their jobs as legislators.

All of them are to blame, but only some of them are still in office.

Thursday, June 20
Fed up

Robert Cushman‎ to The Taxpayers' Spin

An open letter to Warwick Citizens:

With all of this news on Warwick’s financial problems splashed all over television, newspapers and social media, galvanized by the recent elimination of school sports, it makes me angry that the citizens of this city have been asleep at the wheel for so long letting the political leaders off the hook for creating this mess.

I’m sorry to inform you, but you are directly responsible for this mess. Your lack of involvement in the political process allowed the problems to fester and grow to the out of control proportions we are facing today. And if you think what is happening now is a one-time problem, you need a serious wake up call.

Many have been warning of this day for years. We were ignored and demonized.

This is the tip of the ice berg. These problems will continue to occur annually with the severity exponentially increasing.

Drive down any main road in the city, walk through a city or school building or visit a recreation area to experience firsthand the degradation in the city.

Water and sewer infrastructure is literally crumbling under are feet. You think the closure of Sandy Lane this past winter was an anomaly, get used to it. With estimates of $200+ million funds needed in the next 20 years to perform annual maintenance and no plan to raise those funds, failures like that will become routine.

Talk to some of your neighbors who own a home assessed in the $200,000 to $300,000 range. Assessments have skyrocketed, $50,000, $60,000, and some over $80,000. In another week those folks will soon be realizing the sticker shock when their tax bill has increased $600, 700 and $800+ range. Talk to the elderly on a fix income and ask them what they will have to cut out of their disposable income to be able to afford to make that kind of payment.

And all the while we have city leaders pointing fingers, blaming schools when their own spending is out of control and just about every new tax dollar collected in the city has been allocated to the city budget.

School Committee Chairwoman Backus complaining schools need more money yet signs a contract giving $13 million in teacher raises that they now can’t afford to pay? Where was the planning? Where is the coordinated approach by school and city leaders to figure out what is affordable and adopt negotiating guidelines to meet those limits? There isn’t any. It’s every-man for himself.

Where was the 5 year forecast that would have shown that the police, DPW and school contract should never have been signed? Oh yeah, I forgot, the Mayor stated that he could blow his noise with such a plan and the plan was never released.

Where are the givebacks from the union leaders who have won every step of the way in negotiating more and more lucrative salary, pension and healthcare benefits for their members that are un-affordable? Yet with the city facing a financial crisis and cherished programs being cut, they refuse to make a shared sacrifice to restore programs and they still want even more.

In the last decade more money is being spent in the city budget for people who use to work for the city, that provided services in the past, then the people performing services today. How much longer can we afford that to occur?

But no one really knows that. Some folks are content with using the kids as political pawns, making noise, holding a couple of rallies. They will be content and go back to sleep when school sports programs are restored.

In the meantime the very fabric of the city is being destroyed by politicians who are allowed to implement Band-Aid approaches that kick the can down the road while the city continues on it death spiral. Scott Avedisian did exactly that over the last 18 years and continued to get re-elected year after year.

So what are you going to do about it?

All of the stakeholders in this city really need to make a commitment to understand the serious structural issues plaguing the city and schools. If you can at least commit to do that, you will then have the ability to see through the political spin and hold the political leaders across the city accountable and elect people who are willing to solve the problem.

Profiles in courage are needed from our elected leaders to make the difficult decisions to put the city back on sound financial ground. That means confronting organized labor in the city and schools. It means demanding major structural changes in contracts that will save millions of dollars by reducing the unsustainable growth of legacy costs in the city budget and the unsustainable growth in active employee costs in the school budget. It means reallocating that money back into programs and service we have come to expect in Warwick without raising property taxes each year.

So it time for you to raise up and demand change. Are you willing to do that? Are you willing to support people with the will to tackle these issues and not abandon them when organized labor mounts a campaign to throw them out of office after one term for speaking up as I was 12 years ago?

If a larger group is interested in organizing and learning the facts let me know. I am committed to help.

Friday, June 21
Tomhob13

How can you blame the taxpayers?when you have to work 50 hours a week to pay the bills its not easy to get involved.the politicians count on our ignorance but they have the responsibility to do their jobs.dont blame the victims.fix the problems.

Monday, June 24
Cat

If the city council isn't calling the shots, what is the point of the vote of no confidence? Dog and pony show? Waste of valuable time?

Wednesday, June 26