WESTERLY — Consideration should be given to consolidating aspects of the town and schools information technologies departments but not to the potential for consolidating human resources functions, a majority of Town Council members said Monday.
After discussing potential ways to collaborate as a means to improve efficiencies and potentially lower costs, Town Manager J. Mark Rooney and Superintendent of Schools Mark Garceau hired The Human Resource Consortium LLC, a New Haven-based consulting firm, to study the departments.
“We both agree we can do things more effectively and efficiently,” Rooney told the council during a special meeting Monday.
Rooney said the study was also prompted by his awareness of payroll problems the town and schools both faced in recent months.
Robert Fricchione, a human resources practice leader with The Human Resource Consortium, said his discussions with department heads as well as workers in both departments led him to conclude that there is “almost a sense of competition, in some cases, for resources, for dollars and for time.”
“Everybody shared a dissatisfaction for the status quo,” said Fricchione, who spoke to the council via a video teleconference. “Everybody seemed to think we’re ready for change.”
Fricchione recommended moving forward by establishing a vision of what aspects to consolidate and then appointing a team of leaders and workers to find opportunities. The team should then help develop a plan with timelines and potential milestones, he said.
Garceau said he was spurred to discuss the possibility for additional collaboration when the Schools Department human resources director left her position about two months ago. The town and schools currently share the services of the purchasing director.
Councilor Karen Cioffi, the town’s former human resources director, warned against consolidating her former department’s functions, saying the two departments have distinctly different needs and employees. “Although there may be some duplication of efforts, it’s just not worth it,” Cioffi said.
Cioffi said she was hired to oversee consolidation of the two functions in West Warwick, where she now works. “In the end I pulled the plug on it ... it wasn’t going to be effective,” she said.
Some councilors expressed concerns with the concept of consolidation pointing to what they said was the failed consolidation of municipal and school finance department functions in 2013. Council President Christopher Duhamel noted that the finance department consolidation ran counter to provisions of the Town Charter which called for separate municipal and education finance directors.
Councilor Sharon Ahern asked Fricchione to provide estimates of potential costs savings, saying the town “paid a lot of money to unconsolidate.”
“I’m not sure where we’re going to get a 25 or 50 percent savings. I see a lot of language here but I don’t see a lot of numbers,” Ahern said, referring to Fricchione’s presentation.
Fricchione said that while some financial savings could occur, the “cost of inefficiency” would be reduced.
Councilors William Aiello and Brian McCuin asked to follow Fricchione’s recommendation to assemble teams to work on potential consolidation models “Keep us out of it until we need to get involved,” Aiello said. “If it can be done and it saves money and improves efficiencies I’m all for it.”
Aiello and McCuin voted to study consolidating human resources functions but Duhamel, Cioffi, Ahern and Councilors Suzanne Giorno and Caswell Cooke Jr. voted against it.
Six councilors supported continuing to student consolidating information technologies functions. Cioffi voted against the initiative saying she was concerned that consolidation might overburden municipal Information Technologies Director Mark Tate.