WOONSOCKET – At a special City Council meeting Monday, council members had an intense discussion with Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt regarding their concerns about staffing problems in Woonsocket and throughout the state.

As of Tuesday, there were five open positions listed on the city’s website, including an accountant clerk, city planner, tax assessing clerk, Water Department equipment manager, and shop maintenance person. It was mentioned in the meeting that city also conducted interviews for a few other open positions.

Councilor James Cournoyer brought attention to the issue at last week’s City Council meeting, citing concern about the number of vacancies and the length of time the positions have been open.

“We’re doing the best that we can, and we constantly post,” said Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt.

Previous City Planner Kevin Proft left to take a position closer to home in a field he preferred, the mayor told the council early in the discussion. She went down a list of positions that have either been open, recently filled, are in the process of interviewing, or gave explanations as to why employees left. She also noted that the city’s building inspector recently left for North Smithfield, while another employee retired.

“Same thing over and over again. Underpaid, and not enough of them in the state,” Baldelli-Hunt said.

Councilor David Soucy brought up questions of retention, asking how the city could better retain employees once it hires them.

“There’s too much on the table, there’s too many good things that are potentially happening in this community to not have key people filled. With permanent people that stay for the long term, it could really help us put our best foot forward,” Soucy said.

“Can we look at salaries and just find a way to keep people here?” Soucy asked, wondering if it was time for the city to do a full salary and job description review.

Baldelli-Hunt told the council that the incoming budget reflects salary increases for positions that are seeing a shortage around the state. She added that the difficult employees to keep are non-union, because they don’t have a collective body to negotiate regular pay increases on their behalf.

“I think what needs to be said, which is difficult to say, is that money is important, and I think that it’s always worth looking at, but we’re never going to be the top-paid municipality in the state or in the regional area,” Council President Daniel Gendron started, “but we have to be a place where people want to work. And I think that’s the place that City Hall is missing right now.”

“We need to better take care of the people that are here now,” Gendron said. “To me, it’s gotten dangerously thin in City Hall where some of our key positions are vacant. And they didn’t all leave for more money.”

Gendron went on to say that if they could retain staff, they wouldn’t be looking at issues of three-month hiring processes and increasing pay. He also addressed the fact that if there are people who aren’t happy at their job, increasing their financial compensation will often still result in that employee leaving.

“I’m not sure what you’re implying, because this is not a hostile working environment,” Baldelli-Hunt said.

Baldelli-Hunt and Gendron began speaking over one another, arguing about whether or not employees have been leaving because of pay or their work environment. Gendron made the point that one city employee recently left and took a job for less money than they were making in Woonsocket.

“There’s another position in here,” Baldelli-Hunt said at one point, touching her list of job openings. “He put in a lot of hard work, very attached to his projects, doesn’t like politics, and wanted to get away from it. He worked very hard on a project to see it get tamped because of a half-billion dollar project that might come down the road in 25 years. When people are very attached to the work that they do, and they put in a lot of time and effort, but it gets stifled for political reasons, that’s when people become unhappy, too.”

The Breeze reported in February that there were two competing visions for downtown Woonsocket, one coming from the Planning Department and one from the Woonsocket Heritage Canal District Committee. The WHCD project is projected to bring in $500 million from outside investors to the city, if investors can be found.

“And don’t tell me that the city planner wasn’t upset that the work that he did was tabled because of a half-billion dollar project, some ‘pie-in-the-sky’ performance,” Baldelli-Hunt said. She then made a comment about "Colonel Klink," which, from context, may be assumed was a derogatory reference about WHCD Committee Chairman Albert Beauparlant.  

The meeting concluded shortly after Baldelli-Hunt walked out prior to its adjournment.

The other item for discussion related to the contract for the engineering design for the demolition of the old water treatment plant at 1500 Manville Road. After going out to bid, Public Works Director Steven D’Agostino selected Pare Engineering over CDM Smith for the demolition project. CDM Smith has been a close partner with the city’s water works since the 1990s, but Pare has worked with the city recently on various construction projects.

“This ain’t rocket science,” D’Agostino said of the demolition project.

CDM estimated the work would take nearly 1,300 hours, while Pare estimated a bit less than 300 hours, and CDM had bid $400,000 whereas Pare estimates the work at around $200,000.

After questions were raised about the discrepancy in the project’s timing and cost estimates, D’Agostino ultimately decided to issue a new request for quotes. The resolution before the council to contract with Pare Engineering failed 3-2, with Councilors Cournoyer, Sierra, and Gendron voting against the resolution, and Councilors Gonzalez and Soucy voting in favor.

Note: This article has been updated to include Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt's "Colonel Klink" comment following clarification of poor meeting audio quality. 

(2) comments

sw02895

I've heard about how the mayor is to city employees on multiple occasions and it is no wonder to me that nobody wants to work under her ... EVERYONE knows this ... Replace the mayor and many more people will step up and fill city positions ...

Tim 1952

Woonsocket's ability to hire and retain employees is 100 percent due to being a toxic, nepotistic, backstabbing work environment. Just look at the constant stream of trainwreck council meetings and infighting amongst themselves reported week after week. It's painfully embarrassing to witness.

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