Valley Breeze

The North Providence Breeze 04-03-2019

The Valley Breeze Newspapers serving the Northern Rhode Island towns of Cumberland, Lincoln, Woonsocket, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, North Providence, Scituate, Foster, and Glocester

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8 NORTH PROVIDENCE APRIL 3-9, 2019 | VALLEY BREEZE | NORTH PROVIDENCE EDITION Town and school officials this week are attempting to explain how Morisseau's brief tenure in North Providence went wrong. Morisseau's attorney declined to speak with The Breeze for this story. "Ms. Morisseau is presumed inno- cent and should be afforded that courtesy," Joshua Macktaz said by email. Conflicting views on due diligence Morisseau was declared the top candidate for superintendent in North Providence in May of 2017 and unanimously appointed to the position after serving for seven years as Smithfield's assistant superinten- dent. "I feel like I hit the lottery," she told The Valley Breeze at the time. Her resume described her as a "mission-driven professional with experience supervising and working with diverse groups, leading com- plex systems and managing multi- million dollar budgets." Members of the School Committee said they did not call Morisseau's boss, former Supt. Robert O'Brien, as a reference because they respected candidates' privacy, but School Committee member Steven Andreozzi said they felt confident hiring Morisseau after seeing that O'Brien had just renewed her $139,228 salary con- tract for three more years. Mayor Charles Lombardi said this week he doesn't blame the School Committee for Morisseau's alleged illegal activity, but maintains that its members should have done their due diligence before they hired her. "She came highly recommended, what do you do?" Andreozzi asked. "How could we know she was going to do what she did? Was she a bad hire? On face value, no, she wasn't." "To say we didn't vet her … she went through three final rounds (of interviews)," said former School Committee member Stephen Palmieri, noting that Morisseau was named a finalist in superintendent searches in Bolton and Hopedale, Mass., as well as Thompson, Conn. "She was the most vetted person in Rhode Island." Palmieri described her as "the whole package," and said he never expected this to happen. "I'm pretty good at reading people and I thought she was the person for the job." When a committee member ques- tioned why she had moved homes frequently, Palmieri said Morisseau responded that it was "something about financial problems related to a recent divorce," but it was dis- missed as no big deal. "I'm telling you exactly how I saw it: she had an outstanding resume and was questioned thoroughly, said Anthony Marciano, who served as chairman of the committee when Morisseau was hired. "No one would have a clue about any under- lying problems." Plenty of warning signs But underlying problems existed. In the same month Morisseau's Smithfield contract was renewed for roughly $140,000, she was called to court to pay back money owed to Capital One Bank. That May, an eviction case against Morisseau was dismissed, but in August, she was successfully forced out. She was evicted again in January from a home on Bear Hill Road in Cumberland. According to the arrest affida- vit filed in court by the North Providence Police Department, indi- viduals in the school finance depart- ment said purchases by Morisseau that were deemed personal in nature began "pretty much right away." Account Controller Mary Read reported that this began as early as August 2017, roughly a month after Morisseau was hired. Lombardi said one of Morisseau's first moves as the district's leader was transforming an administrative conference room into her personal office. "How does the School Department allow that?" he asked, also noting that the superintendent was "tak- ing a lot of time off" and making increasingly aggressive spending decisions. "When this situation came to light, I wasn't too surprised because there were many instances where we were trying to reach her and she wasn't around. I knew there was something going on, but she didn't work for me," the mayor said. Palmieri said the former super- intendent was "doing the best she could at first, but as time went on she was spending a lot and buying more things … people weren't seeing her around the office as much. When I questioned her about it, she said she was in the schools, and that she wasn't supposed to be in the office." Added Palmieri, "In retrospect there was an absolute problem. I MORISSEAU From Page One NORTH PROVIDENCE – Shock waves rippled through the North Providence com - munity and beyond last week after news broke that the town's former superintendent of schools had been arrested and charged with embezzling and stealing taxpayer funds with the intent to defraud the School Department. The allegations against Bridget Morisseau have col - ored the activities of the School Committee since they were first made last June, giving members reason to pause every month before signing off on the payment of bills. During this month's School Committee meeting, a heated discussion ensued concerning the payment of bills and the town's use of credit cards. Members were surprised to hear that the School Department was still using a credit card for certain purchases after they voted to destroy all credit cards when it became clear that the former superintendent had used hers inappropriately. It wasn't until last week's meeting – held two days after the news broke of Morisseau's arrest – that members learned there's still a credit card being used by the School Department. The topic was raised by mem - ber Steven Andreozzi, who asked Finance Director Ronald Gonsalves whether or not monthly bills from Lowe's for February and March were from a credit card. "I believe so," Gonsalves said. "I thought we did away with credit cards?" Andreozzi asked. "I'm a little confused. I mean we're making statements out in the public that we have no credit cards and yet we have a credit card, so is there any other way we can do business with Lowe's without a credit card or do we need to have a credit card with Lowe's?" Gonsalves said he believes the card is integral to opera - tions, as it's primarily used by maintenance staff in emergency situations. The card is held by Jim Fuoroli, who splits his time between municipal and school buildings as facilities director. Member Gina Picard said she understands the concern with efficiency, but that credit cards were removed from the School Department "to protect taxpayer dollars," continu - ing, "if I was told there are no credit cards and there were, in fact, credit cards in the district, I too would have concerns about that." "I don't want that to be out there that we're using credit cards when I believe we made a man - date not to use them," Andreozzi said. Supt. Joseph Goho said the topic was brought up at a staff meeting last week, and that he believes the confusion lies in Fuoroli's position being shared between the town and schools. He said Fuoroli's card is for Home Depot and Lowe's only, which do not accept purchase orders. "Is Mr. Fuoroli the only per - son in the maintenance division for the School Department that has a credit card or are there multiple cards that are floating around out there?" Andreozzi asked. Fuoroli said his assistant has one – and that a third is used only on the town side. The third is kept in a safe and used on Amazon to save money. "So we went from zero credit cards in your pocket to multiple and I thought it was brought up at a past School Committee meeting that all credit cards were to be turned in," said Andreozzi. Pallotta asked whether there was a policy to guide the use of credit cards, to which Goho said he had originally hoped to cre - ate one with the interim finance director before she left. "There is a valid use of appro - priately controlled and policy- driven credit cards that help districts save money," he said. The committee voted to get a copy of the town's credit card policy for their consideration. Mayor Charles Lombardi said any purchase on a town credit card is scrutinized. "I'd like to think the same thing is already going on over there without them having to adopt a policy," he said. While he doesn't think an administrator needs to use a credit card, he said he doesn't think they should be banned across the board. School Committee on edge over credit card use By NICOLE DOTZENROD Valley Breeze Staff Writer nicole@valleybreeze.com Continues on next page ANDREOZZI GOHO GUM CONTOURING Just as crowded and overlapping teeth can detract from a smile, gums that rest too low/high or cover an overly large portion of the teeth can prevent many individuals from having the smile they want. 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