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Council Seeks City Manager Termination

Editor's note, 3/28/18 7:43PM: The City Council of East Providence has fired City Manager Tim Chapman. Finance Director Malcolm Moore will now be the Acting City Manager.

If the City Council votes Wednesday night (March 28th), to suspend City Manager Timothy Chapman, he may very well formally lose his job full year after the May 2nd, 2017 resolution that made him full City Manager.

The resolution sponsored by Councilwoman Anna Sousa, would suspend Mr. Chapman pending termination. It is unlikely such a resolution and special meeting would occur without the three votes required to pass the resolution.

Mr. Chapman's relationship with this City Council has been rocky from the start. Appointed by the previous City Council on a 3-2 vote back in August of 2016, Chapman replaced terminated City Manager Richard Kirby and served concurrently as City Solicitor. Councilor Robert Britto and then Councilor Helder Cunha dissented both from Kirby's termination and Chapman's interim appointment, pushing instead for long-time Planning Director Jeannie Boyle.

When the current City Council was inaugurated in December of 2016, Mr. Chapman remained Acting City Manager but was not reappointed as City Solicitor, that position went to long-time Assistant City Solicitor Greg Dias. It had been widely suspected in political circles that Mr. Chapman along with City Clerk Kim Casci-Palangio and other prior council appointees would not remain, but no 'clean sweep' took place, Councilor Faria sponsored the resolution to keep Mrs. Casci-Palangio as City Clerk, he along with the rest of the council took no action on Mr. Chapman.

It didn't take long for efforts to remove Chapman to materialize from a Council very vocal about not carrying their predecessor's water. In January, a month after inauguration, a special meeting was planned to review Chapman but cancelled due to an unspecified procedural error with the docket.

Not too long afterward came a fiery meeting regarding a class of firefighter applicants that were thrown out by the Personnel Hearing Board after the passing score was illegally lowered below 70. The removal of that class, which meant a missed firefighter academy, a lost of about half a year's work and tens of thousands of dollars in overtime costs. Mr. Chapman's role was highly criticized as well as former Acting Human Resources Director Ray Benoit.

On February 27th, 2017, Councilors Botelho and Britto attempted to restore former Manager Richard Kirby to his former position, an act that would have essentially terminated Mr. Chapman by default.  After lengthy and vigorous discussion, Chapman survived once again by 3-2 vote against restoring Kirby. Counselor Faria as the deciding vote, vigorously citing the lack of any process. At the end of that vote, Britto congratulated Chapman and stated he would support Chapman going forward.

On May 2nd, 2017, the Council had yet another contentious meeting regarding Mr. Chapman, this time on whether to make him the full City Manager. This time, Mr. Chapman was supported by Botelho and Britto, the latter noting his February 27th statement in support of Chapman going forward. Mr. Botelho noted communication issues with Mr. Chapman early on but said those had been worked out. Objections based on process were raised by Councilor Brian Faria but he ultimately supported Mr. Chapman for "the sake of unanimity" and also noting that it would not help his ward to vote against a City Manager who already has a majority locked up. The vote was 4-0 with Councilor Anna Sousa not present.

The summer months were relatively quiet, with a focus on the City Charter changes and for the most part there were few issues between the Council and its City Manager.  In late summer there was some acrimony about water shutoffs, while the City Manager had collected thousands in overdue bills, a lot from business properties, some Council Members and members of the community felt that low income home-owners and those with a hardship were being shutoff without a way to recover financially due to the stringent policy put in place by the City Manager. Mr. Chapman noted he had granted two hardships and that EPCAP had worked with others in need. This ultimately resulted in an ordinance by Councilman Faria allowing appeals to the City Council. Despite fears of abuse no incidents of abuse have been cited to date.

On October 17th, right before the final budget hearing, it was brought to light that the School Committee was deconsolidating the combined Information Technology department. A point that was not brought up by the Superintendent in her budget presentation and a move that would add significant cost increases to the city which would now pay the full salary of IT Director Kelly Aherns and the departments Administrative Assistant,  previously split with the School Department. The City Council decried the move and the lack of notice and scheduled a special meeting to finalize the budget and ask the Superintendent to explain the move. At the October 20th followup meeting, Superintendent Crowley noted that she had informed Chapman of the deconsolidation by email and then by formal letter a week prior to Mr. Chapman notifying the Council. No explanation was given about the delay in communicating the matter to the Council, especially as it took up the budget.

It was not long after that Chapman was again in the firing line, a December 3rd rare Sunday special meeting was scheduled to review the City Manager's job performance. The meeting was held mostly in Executive Session with audible yelling from the conference room. The reason for the job performance was not stated, but speculation was that it related to the settlement of the case brought by then Human Resources Director Kathleen Waterbury. The Council decided to postpone the job review to give more time for Chapman to prove himself. The performance review was later dropped, citing a renewed understanding between the City Manager and City Council and reinvigorated lines of communication. When we asked Mr. Faria why no action was taken, he stated “We were in there for hours, we really wanted to make it work with Tim." When asked about the Waterbury matter, Faria did not disclose if it was a topic of the performance review but said  “After voting against any settlement, we [the Council] later found out second-hand they went on to settle with Waterbury unbeknownst to the Council via an email through a co-defendant’s attorney and later in the press. We had an active part in the entire movement and then suddenly the Council had no decision making authority in the matter.”

Despite a public statement of renewed support, tensions again appeared between Mr. Chapman and members of the Council. Chapman was chastised by Counselor Botelho for presenting a no-bid contract extension, with little information for comparison and with the information being sent to the Council at the 11th hour. Some members of the Council have also raised concerns to us that Mr. Chapman is conflicted given his role as contracted legal counsel to the City of Pawtucket regarding the proposed Link Transfer Station. While Mega/MTG does not operate the transfer station, the city's contract with Mega is an extension of the joint contract signed with Pawtucket and Central Falls which means Mega provides the logistics for the transfer station.

If the City Manager is suspended pending termination, then he will have the option to have a public hearing within 20 days. After such time the Council shall have the option to terminate the Mr. Chapman. Under the court decision Reynolds v Lamb, the City Manager may be terminated without any cause. Per the City Charter, Mr. Chapman will be entitled to three months of salary.

Should the suspension proceed as planned, the Council has listed to discuss placing City Finance Director Malcolm Moore as Acting City Manager. Moore has been Finance Director for six years when he was hired by the state appointed Budget Commission to fill the position previously held by Ellen Eggeman during a period when a lot of senior city and school officials left for other positions. Moore was previously the Finance Director in West Warwick where he was also asked to step in as Interim Town Manager, a position he held for 9 months in addition to his Finance responsibilities.

The meeting starts at 7:30pm in the City Council chambers. We reached out to Mayor James Briden and Councilwoman Anna Sousa and did not receive an immediate response.

Note: Jason Desrosiers and Rodrigo Pimentel contributed to this story.