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A Hummel Report Investigation

Advice and Discontent

The selection of former North Providence Mayor and Secretary of State Ralph Mollis as town manager of North Kingstown took many by surprise - including members of a citizens advisory committee that unanimously recommended someone else for the job. This week: Jim Hummel speaks with two of the committee members, the council president who advocated bringing Mollis on board, and we take a look at the search for a manager in a similar town that had a more transparent selection process.


Right after North Kingstown’s new town council took over in early December it had an important - and pressing decision - to make: Who to hire as town manager?
Tom Mulligan, the former police-chief appointed nine months earlier as manager, had announced he’d be leaving in February.
Eight weeks to the day after being sworn in, the council voted to hire Ralph Mollis, a former North Providence mayor and councilman who also served two terms as Rhode Island Secretary of State. It was a 3-2 vote.
King: ``My comment about Mr. Mollis was he’s an excellent candidate for a different job, but not the town manager.’’
Will King grew up in North Kingstown and was on a citizens advisory committee assembled to help in the selection process. King said the committee unanimously advised the council to choose another candidate and that Mollis was not anyone’s top choice among the three finalists.
King: ``Each of us had prepared our own personal questions. Most of us have hired vice presidents and directors and we know what to ask and how to get to the essence of a candidate. What’s the strength there. Our previous discussions with Mr. Mollis was that he solved problems by pulling political strings. Because I asked him a lot of questions: what would you do with this? What would you do with that. His answer always was I will do it the way I did in North Providence. I knew this guy and essentially pulled strings.’’
Welch: ``All of the input I personally received from people throughout the state that knew him, everything was positive.’’
Richard Welch, who became council president in December, has heard the criticism but maintains that Mollis was the best candidate. Welch a Democrat, along with Independents Ellen Waxman and Kevin Maloney, voted for Mollis after meeting with the citizens committee. Republicans Kerry McKay and Doreen Costa voted against.
The roots of the search began more than a year ago when longtime manager Mike Embury left in October of 2015 to take a job on the Cape. King was one of a dozen people who volunteered to be on the citizens committee. Their recommendation to the council at the time would be simply that - a recommendation.
After initially narrowing the search to seven candidates, the committee recommended - and the council made an offer to - a candidate from Pennsylvania, who accepted, then pulled out in March of 2016, weeks after accepting the offer.
King: ``My suspicion is somebody called him and poisoned that well because he declined stating that there’s too much political turmoil in town over this town manager issue.’’
Mollis and two other candidates were finalists a year ago. Mulligan remained in place as manager.

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