RICHMOND — Facing several senior staff vacancies, Richmond is eager to hire a full-time building official, finance director and town planner as soon as possible.

"These are three key positions in town government, and for continuity’s sake, it’s really important that they don’t go unfilled for long,” said Town Administrator Karen Pinch. “ We’ll cross our fingers that some good candidates come along and we can fill the positions quickly.”

The town learned only last week that planner Juliana Berry was moving out of state and would be leaving in March. Berry, whose salary is $60,000, was hired less than two years ago. 

Pinch said the position had been posted and she had already received inquiries from several qualified applicants. The town will accept applications until Feb. 15.

 “It is unfortunate that we’re losing Juliana; she’s been a great addition to our team,” Pinch said. “We have received several applications from qualified individuals, and we hope to start interviewing possibly as soon as next week.  Juliana will be involved in the interview process, and we hope to identify her replacement quickly so that we can provide the new person with some transition time with her.”

Town Council Vice President Richard Nassaney said he was optimistic that the town would soon find a new planner. “We’re already whittled down to two people that are very qualified for the position, so this is a nice light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

An even more recent hire, Finance Director Kelli Russ, came to Richmond from a similar position in Foster in May 2018, but returned to her Foster job for family reasons after just a few months. Russ, whose full-time salary was $80,000, continues to work for Richmond on Fridays as well as evenings and weekends. 

“We really miss having Kelli here full time,” Pinch said. “Although she is still very actively engaged with us and helping with many aspects of finance, her absence on a daily basis is felt by many of us.”

Pinch said the situation is even more difficult with the town’s budget planning process beginning.

“Not having Kelli full-time during budget season will be challenging," Pinch said. "She is doing whatever she can to help us through this transition period, and I can’t thank her enough for that,” she said.

The search for Russ’s replacement has been difficult, because the position of municipal finance director requires specialized skills and experience.

“It’s a very different skill set from other accounting positions,” Pinch said. “Unfortunately, there seems to be a shortage of people out there with this type of experience.”

Nassaney said Russ had been a valuable asset to the town. “Her knowledge is so extensive and so in-depth that I sit there in awe,” he said. “I begged her to stay in one capacity or another … I am deeply troubled that we’re not able to hold on to her.”

The town is also without a full-time building official and has been searching for a state-certified building official since Loren Gengarella died in 2016. The position is currently filled by West Greenwich building official Dave Tacey, who works for Richmond on a part-time basis. Pinch said there is a statewide shortage of building officials, so finding the right person has not been easy.

“We felt it was time to get someone who is available to the public during regular business hours,” Pinch said. “We are very thankful that Dave has been able to serve as our building official. With Loren’s unexpected passing, we were really in a bind for someone who was certified.  Unfortunately there is a shortage of certified building officials in Rhode Island. In fact, many CBOs are doing double-duty, covering multiple towns. Thankfully, Dave has said he’d stick with us as long as we need him.”

Nassaney said the rigorous state certification process has proved to be a deterrent.

“It’s so difficult that very few people have the actual certification, and you don’t want to just put anybody in there,” he said. 

Pinch agreed that candidates found the state test daunting.

“I’ve had multiple people contact me to say they are interested, however, finding someone who is certified and available to work the hours we need is the challenge,” Pinch said. “They may have the experience in the field, but passing the test is the hard part. Those who have contacted me are planning to take the certification test, and hopefully one or two will pass and want to come to Richmond.”

Nassaney conceded that smaller towns like Richmond sometimes have trouble recruiting and retaining staff, but he said the people who currently work for the town are exemplary employees.

“The people that do work for the town are truly amazing," he said. "They dedicate so much of their time and energy. Look at Kelli. What does she do? She works part-time and still can accomplish what would take most people an entire week. We’re fortunate in that aspect. The people that we do have really care.”

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