Personnel board member disputes council’s authority on proposed hiring of HR director in N.S.

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Personnel Board Secretary Suzanne Bernier speaks before the council.

NORTH SMITHFIELD – Members of the North Smithfield Personnel Board say that the Town Council does not have the authority to add a new staff member at Town Hall, and has requested more information from councilors on their decision last June to hire a part time human resource director.

“The Town Council does not have the power to hire or fire an employee,” Personnel Board Secretary Suzanne Bernier told NRI NOW. “The HR position is a director. It’s an appointed position and it’s appointed by the town administrator, not the council.”

At least one council member, however, disagrees with the assessment, pointing to a different section of the charter that references the authority, “to create, change and abolish departments, offices and agencies.”

The effort to add the role – a part time position with a $35,000 price tag – was passed in a split 3-2 vote during budget deliberations last June. The position, which was not listed in the Budget Committee’s or administrator’s proposed spending plan, was the source of some conflict, with Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski noting that Benefits and Payroll Coordinator Karen Bernadino has been performing the duties, and is certified for the HR role.

But Town Council President Kimberly Alves, voting in the majority with Councilors Paulette Hamilton and Douglas Osier, said at the time that the position was needed, “with what’s been happening,” a likely reference to some recent legal issues involving the administrator and Town Hall staff.

Bernier’s board, which is tasked with advising and assisting, “the personnel director and town administrator on problems concerning personnel administration and the improvement of personnel standards in the town service,” voted unanimously at a meeting in October to request documentation describing the need for the proposed position.  

In a letter sent to councilors on Thursday, Oct. 26, the board pointed to Section 13-44 {b} of the charter, which covers, “allocation of new, additional, or changed positions.” 

“Whenever a new or additional position, is or is intended to be, authorized or created, or the duties or responsibilities of an existing position are, or are intended to be, substantially changed, and such change is of indeterminate duration, the head of the department shall report such fact to the personnel board and shall forward to the board such information, and in such manner and form as the board may, by regulation or otherwise, request,” the section notes. “After such inquiry and conference as the board may deem necessary, the personnel board shall allocate or reallocate the opposition to the appropriate class and shall certify such allocation to the department. In cases of new or additional positions, the procedure to amend this chapter is specified in Article II of this chapter.” 

Bernier later pointed out to NRI NOW that currently, according to the town website the role of HR director technically falls under the duties of the town finance director.

“Why do we need one when we already have one?” she asked, further questioning how a full-time staff member can report to a part timer.

She also noted that a part-time staff member can only work a maximum of 19 hours a week for the $35,000 salary.

“That’s too much money for that,” Bernier said.

The longtime board volunteer member attended the council meeting on Monday, Nov. 13 hoping to speak on the issue. Under council rules, she knew she could not get up to speak during the regular good and welfare at the start of the meeting, as the issue was listed on the council’s agenda.

When the item came up, Councilor John Beauregard asked if Bernier could be heard, but Alves responded, “We don’t have it on for open discussion.”

“She’s a member of the board and she did come for that particular reason,” Beauregard said.

“No, it’s not open,” Alves replied. “It’s just an update.”

“She can update us,” Beauregard said.

“There’s no update,” Alves said, making no mention of the personnel board’s communication to the council on the issue.

Bernier did get up to speak at the end of the meeting.

“I’m looking to find out when we are going to get feedback from the Town Council on this,” Bernier said. “It has been almost three weeks now. When are we going to get any information?”

Alves responded that she’s been working Finance Director Antony St. Onge to create the position.

“It’s not a director,” Alves said. “It’s a human resource manager.”

“I would suggest that we defund the position and move on,” Bearegard said this week.

Hamilton did respond to the personnel board’s October letter, pointing to Section 8 of the charter governing Town Council powers.

“The Town Council does, indeed, have that authority,” Hamilton wrote in an email to the board secretary.

Bernier later told NRI NOW that she was, “very disappointed,” that neither Alves or Osier have replied to the letter.

She noted that currently, Bernadino handles benefits and payroll for town employees and attends the interviews, providing information to all new candidates.

“They wanted to take duties away from her,” Bernier said of the council. “They can’t do that. The union is going to going to get involved.”

Bernier said she intends to ask to be put on the agenda to speak at an upcoming council meeting, where she is not limited by the three minute time constraint applied to the general public.

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13 COMMENTS

  1. Where is Mary C, Mike C, and Bryan M with the outrage for not following proper protocol and procedures. They ran the grant writer out of town….rules for thee, not for me!

    • I too am outraged at the political stunt JB tried to pull during that meeting, but it’s on par for them. But if you’d like to comment, go right ahead. I am with family, and spent my time putting up my Christmas tree and making memories.

      • So you’re fine with Kim, Paulette, and Doug giving themselves powers that they don’t have in terms of hiring this person and position? You’re fine with them violating proper policies and procedures?

        So typical you try to deflect and redirect the conversation….

        Making memories…..yet you still had time to reply and make it about John Beauregard. I’m starting to think there may be a picture of him at the top of your Christmas tree.

        • The powers that were given to them by the charter? Kinda hard to argue against that. Looks like they followed the proper procedures, since it didn’t go the correct way for JB, he threw a hissy fit, and asked his followers to attack people on here to get a rise when the article dropped. I’m sure there will be a proposal to change that in the charter. You were the one that implied him, I just put initials to your implied person or persons.

        • This was definitely a stunt pulled to make one member of the TC look bad, cue John Beauregard…I watched this meeting in it’s entirety. The position of the HR Director was not listed on the agenda and of course he attempts to have Ms. Bernier speak…keep in mind the position of Ms. Bernier is an advisory position. But Ms. Bernier speaks at the end, calling out Kim Alves.

          I was shocked to hear that Mr. St. Onge is the “acting, HR Director.” He has absolutely no experience or credentials and I am not sure of the credentials held by Ms. Bernardino as they are not defined by Ms. Bernier.

          Ms. Hamilton noted that the TC has the authority to create a new position and in fact, it is desperately needed…should it have been a position at the time of the TA’s alleged behavior, the behavior would have been reported directly as it should have been.

          Ms. Bernier’s characterization of the salary being too high for a part time employee is disturbing. What specific experience does Ms. Bernier have regarding wage and salary administration? None that I could find save for her volunteer role at RSVP and her volunteer experience in town, as a member of the board. When you consider that we pay the Finance Director and the TA their salaries, a credentialed, certified HR Director is worth every penny of the $35,000.00 as reported, especially given our recent trials and tribulations. In fact, it would be beneath that generally accepted by a qualified individual.

          Certainly, the TC has the authority to create the position. I trust they will do the right thing.

          • You’re right…..If Paulette says it, it has to be true, despite what the charter language above states.

            So what you’re stating is the town charter allows for the councils to “hire” someone – even if it’s not in the budget?

            Do they pay you to “get in line”??

        • HL,aka John Beauregard, why do you insist on commenting under an alias. You claim that you stay away from social media but within minutes of my calling you out as John B the last time, you commented as yourself denying that you were HL. I had hoped Mrs Bernier was going to question the status of the investigation of Administrator Zwolenski’s alleged harassment of his administrative assistant. It’s been over a year now that the attorney was hired to “investigate” the complaint.

          • Same playbook as your patrol member BM. Deflect, redirect and shame. So, Mr. Clifford, did the big 3 violate the town charter? Please, just a yes or no.

            You still never answered the question about Ms. Alves full voting record on the police station vote.

            Or should I ask Kevin Mutto, Bob Simpson and or Harley53?

            • Unfortunately, I believe Mrs Bernier is putting the cart before the horse. The language she cites is found in the Code of Ordinances, not the town charter. The personnel board becomes involved when a new position is being created. The position, proposed duties and specific details have not been determined or approved as a draft by the town council yet. When Mrs Alves and the Finance Director have written a proposal it appears to me consultation with the PB should then begin. Assuming the Solicitor was at the meeting and didn’t voice an opinion to the contrary, he must be in agreement with Mrs Hamilton’s interpretation of the Charter. So in summary, the council appears to be following the proper process, hasn’t violated any provision of the Charter and the personnel board will have the opportunity to review the proposal once it’s been drafted.
              As for your claim that I didn’t answer the question concerning Mrs Alves vote, I did respond to Mr Guertin when he asked the question. I’ll be happy to cut and paste the answer again if you missed it.

            • This is exactly why the attack occurred. Ms. Alves felt that the town did not accurately portray the tax implications for those paying taxes….let’s thank the powers that be for not providing accurate information. We are still waiting for the three to five year forecast. The old saying goes, “fool me once, shame on you: fool me twice, shame on me.”

              PS. Have some courage, use your real name.

  2. How do we contact the personal board? Maybe they can get the Tax collector to return the two voicemails I’ve left in the last two weeks?

    • Art, now you will hear from the Tax Collector. Well maybe you will….or not…..The question I always have is, who directs the ship? The answer is obvious, no one. And it is rudderless!

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