Former city finance director lands job in Westerly, combining school and municipal operations

Former city finance director lands job in Westerly, combining school and municipal operations

WOONSOCKET - The city's well-known and respected former finance director has moved on to a new position in the town of Westerly, and his work at attempting to consolidate school and municipal operations in Woonsocket is serving him well.

Thomas Bruce served as finance director in Woonsocket under former Mayors Leo Fontaine and Susan Menard, and was acting finance director under the current administration until his dismissal in April.

Bruce checked in with The Breeze this week, and said he's been busy since the unexpected termination.

"I went to work right away full-time for Thompson, Conn., Public Schools as interim finance director for about a month, and then I served as full-time interim finance director of the West Warwick Public Schools for two months," he said.

Bruce said he also volunteered to assist North Smithfield Town Administrator Paulette Hamilton with financial challenges on his own time during the month of May.

"Quite a variety kept me going," Bruce said.

Now, Bruce has landed a permanent position as finance director of both the Town of Westerly and the Westerly Public Schools. It's a job well-suited to his prior experience in Woonsocket.

"I had been seeking the combined municipal/school system financial management opportunity for a long time," Bruce told The Breeze.

A restructuring of administrative positions to combine town and school functions did take place in East Providence, under that community's state-appointed Budget Commission.

In Woonsocket, consolidating the financial operations of the city and the school department began in 2012, but seemed to fade from the forefront with the hiring of Business Manager Joseph Spagna last year. Spagna resigned earlier this month.

"I have no doubts that consolidation and further regionalization of finance functions will be a very common and best financial management practice for local government at some point in the future," said Bruce. "It will evolve on a national basis including Rhode Island."

Westerly autonomously developed the consolidated finance structure in order to save money and improve efficiencies with the support of the community and voters.

"Westerly is the only municipality to have consolidated the two finance areas in the state, without the restructuring being applied by a state Budget Commission," Bruce said.

Bruce started the new job on July 17, and now divides his time between two groups of staff at two locations.

"I report to both the town manager and the superintendent of schools," he said. "All of this makes for very busy days, but I really love it."

Still, he said he misses Woonsocket, and, in particular, the people he worked with, from his former 14 finance staff members to directors, administrators, members of the Budget Commission and the community at large. But he expressed no hard feelings with the mayor, who decided to let him go.

"Christine Chamberland is already a success as Woonsocket's finance director and with her talent and strong work ethic, she will always succeed in helping to strengthen the finances of the city," Bruce said.