A Hummel Report Investigation
Eleven months ago the head of the Providence Water Supply Board (and second-highest paid employee in the city) was terminated, with ratepayers shelling out a quarter of a million dollars to buy out her contract. But the reason for her firing remains a mystery as officials have steadfastly refused to talk about it. This week we have the results of a six-month battle to obtain details of the settlement. And Jim Hummel finds that a majority of the board of directors at her new employer - The Bristol County Water Authority - had no idea she was fired.
To see Pamela Marchand's termination letter click HERE.
To see Pamela Marchand's contract with the Providence Water Supply Board click HERE.
To see Pamela Marchand's contract with the Bristol County Water Authority click HERE.
Eleven months ago the head of the Providence Water Supply Board was shown the door - but nobody would say why the termination, or how much it would cost ratepayers to buy out her contract. Well this week we have details on the payoff - but an explanation about the firing is still hard to come by.
Ten weeks after she was terminated by the Providence Water Supply Board, Pamela Marchand signed a three-year contract as the new executive director of the Bristol County Water Authority. She called her new position a dream job - and nearly every one of the board members who voted to hire her thought Marchand had left her previous job voluntarily.
The vote in February was unanimous.
But in December of 2011 Providence told Marchand to pack her bags immediately - after six years of leading the state's premier water authority - a $66 million organization with 250 employees.
Bristol County Water is a little more than a 10th the size, and Marchand took a 30 percent pay cut to go there.
At $180,000 a year Marchand was the second-highest paid employee in Providence, behind Police Chief Dean Esserman. The severance did not come cheaply for the ratepayers of the Providence Water Supply Board, which include Bristol County water customers, as that authority buys its water from Providence.
The Hummel Report has learned that ratepayers will shell out more than a quarter of a million dollars to buy out Marchand's contract by the time it runs out early next year - including salary, car allowance, medical and dental payments and unused vacation and holiday pay.
It took us six months - and a change in the state's open records law - to obtain the details of her termination. The Providence board refused to comment at the time of her firing and denied our initial request last spring for her contract and termination agreement, saying it was not obliged to produce it under state law, even though public money was involved.
The General Assembly modified the open records law in June to include public employee contracts, and we resubmitted our request. We received the numbers, and found out Marchand was terminated without cause, but the paper trail offered no explanation as to why. So we asked board chairman Brett Smiley - who signed Marchand's termination letter - about it after a recent board meeting.
Hummel: ``Why did you terminate her?''
Smiley: ``She was terminated along the terms of her contract. There was a provision for termination without cause, which the board voted to elect and we followed the terms that were pre-negotiated years ago when that contract started and we've been following the terms of her severance exactly.''
Hummel: ``There's been no question about that. I guess the question for the ratepayers - it was a payout of almost $250,000, it's quarter of a million dollars. And a lot of people want to know why was that money paid out. Did the board have a difference of opinion with her. You terminate somebody for a reason, and I think a lot of people want to know what that reason is.''
Smiley: ``Actually we terminated her without cause, so we were able to take advantage of a clause in her cause that allowed us to terminate at any point we saw fit. We made a determination that it was in the best interests of Providence Water and in the best interest of the ratepayers to bring on a new general manager.''
Hummel: ``But those ratepayers are picking up $250,000 and many are saying if it's a shift of a opinion, if it's something the board wanted to go a direction, don't they deserve an answer what the reason is? We've gotten no reason at all.''
Smiley: ``The ratepayers of Providence water have the least expensive water in Rhode Island and we've just gone into our fourth year without requesting a rate hike. So I think the ratepayers of Providence Water are getting excellent water at an amazing value that no other system in the state can provide and should be really pleased with the water that they're getting and the price they're paying for it.''
Sources inside the water authority tell the Hummel Report Marchand had a falling out with new the administration and that Mayor Angel Taveras wanted her out.
Taveras: ``We thought new leadership over there was better and I'm not trying to degrade her or anything I'm just saying that it was something that we thought new leadership was important.
Then the question is how do you do it, then how do you do it consistent with the law and if you have a contract how do you do that. So we try to do it the best way that we could. But I certainly understand why you or other people would have an issue with that. I would simply say when you have contract, you can't simply break it and you have to figure out the best way to do it.''
The authority sent a termination notice to Marchand on December 19th, 2011, effectively immediately. hat meant it had to pay her for 14 months of salary, translating to $207,000.
In addition Marchand received $700 in car allowance.
$2,675 in medical and dental payments.
$4,769 in holiday pay.
And $41,000 for unused vacation time.
For a total of $256,144.
Hummel: ``But it's a quarter of a million dollars that you could have used somewhere else, cars, equipment, manpower, something else. And regardless of that the rates are not going up, maybe that would translate to a penny or two rate decrease. Or is a quarter of a million dollars not that big a deal.''
Smiley: ``We take our ratepayers dollars very seriously and spend them as if they were our own household budgets. We've been able to find savings through management restructuring. We've reduced the management team here, found savings in the budget so that we can continue to make the changes necessary to provide the best quality in Rhode Island for the lowest rate.''
Part of that restructuring was to promote Boyce Spinelli to General Manager, the title Marchand held. But she was also the chief engineer - a position spelled out in the Providence City Charter - which states that the board shall hire a chief engineer who is also certified as a professional engineer.
Hummel: ``Do you have a chief engineer?''
Smiley: ``We do not currently have a chief engineer.''
Hummel: ``And do you expect to bring one on?''
Smiley: ``We might.''
Hummel: ``You know the city charter says that your chief engineer - you have to have a chief engineer in place and they have to be a professional engineer and that involves certification.''
Smiley: ``Right, so the city charter says our chief engineer has to be a professional engineer. The city charter is neutral on if or when we need to have a chief engineer appointed.''
Marchand became a leading contender for the Bristol County Water Authority job following her termination. But The Hummel Report found that most of the directors believed she had left Providence voluntarily and had no idea about the $250,000 buyout.
We were able to reach seven of the 9 members who voted unanimously to hire her. Only Allan Klepper, who headed the search committee and is now the board chairman, knew Marchand had been terminated. He told us that if she had been terminated with cause it would have been an issue for him, but because it was without cause, it was not. The other six we reached said they did not know she had been fired and apparently no one asked.
The board chairman at the time, John Jannitto.
tells the Hummel Report that he thought ``she was fed up with what was going on (in Providence) and decided to move out and go to a smaller (water authority). That's the impression she gave.''
Jannitto was quoted in the Barrington Patch at the time of Marchand's hiring, saying: ``She was not removed.” And that if Marchand had been terminated, the board would have found out about it in the vetting process. He said last week if he had known she was fired, it might have changed his mind on hiring her.
Klepper and other board members we spoke with, said they have been pleased by Marchand's performance in her first eight months on the job. Klepper added that she has extraordinary experience in the water management field. She is earning $125,000 a year in Bristol County.
We left repeated messages at the water authority for Marchand last week. Her personal lawyer called us on Monday, saying she would have no comment.
So we went to the authority on Tuesday to get some answers.
Hummel: ``Ms. Marchand, how are you? Good to see you.''
Hummel: ``Can we talk to you for a few minutes?''
Marchand: ``No, I'm afraid not.''
Hummel: ``Why is that?''
Marchand: ``I do not have any comments.''
Hummel: ``Well, I haven't asked you any questions.
Marchand: ``Well, I'm not going to have any comments and I'm going to ask you to leave.''
Hummel: ``Well, I'm going to start asking you some questions.''
Marchand: ``I think you need to leave.''
Hummel: ``Why is that? I haven't asked you a question yet. You're being paid by ratepayer money and you're not going to answer questions?''
Marchand: ``No, not at this time.''
Hummel: ``Why is that? You don't know what the questions are Ms. Marchand. Can you tell us why were you terminated by Providence Water. Simply explanation; $256,000, you don't feel you need to tell the ratepayers what they're getting for their money?''
Marchand: ``I think you need to leave.''
Hummel: ``I'm not leaving. This is a public building.''
Marchand: ``This is not a discussion. Thank you.''
Then we asked her about the Bristol County Water directors telling us they were unaware Marchand had been terminated, or that she'd walked away from Providence with a windfall.
Hummel: ``What about that?''
Marchand: ``This is not a discussion. You are not welcome here.''
Hummel: Well, this is a public building. I'm going to keep asking questions.''
Marchand: ``I think you need to leave.''
Jim Hummel, for The Hummel Report.