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.