WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) ─ The relatives of four out of nine Warwick City Council members have city jobs, with three hired within the past year, the Target 12 Investigators have learned.
A public records request confirms the children of two council members and the brother-in-law of a third were hired since last March. The daughter of a fourth council member has worked for Warwick since 2005.
Concern that favoritism and connections contributed to the hires spilled out following the recent council approval of the hotly debated firefighters’ contract and during a contentious September meeting about the appointment of Municipal Court Judge Kelly McElroy.
McElroy is the daughter of Ward 4 Democrat James McElroy, who recused himself from the eventual vote.
“I am so disgusted and ashamed of my city right now,” one woman said during the public comment portion the meeting.
No one complained that McElroy was not qualified for the judgeship, but about a dozen people indicated they did not like the way it looked for the city.
“It just feels like this is a political appointment based on cronyism,” one man said during the meeting.
McElroy was appointed and is now one of two city judges earning $625 a month. Her father has not responded to requests for comment.
Councilman Timothy Howe’s daughter was hired in January as an administrative coordinator. The Ward 3 Democrat told Target 12 emphasized no strings were pulled for her.
“She never asked me for my help,” Howe said. “And furthermore she was interviewed and everything went on without me knowing.”
Target 12’s Access to Public Records Act (APRA) request also shows the brother-in-law of Councilman Stephen McAllister was hired last March as a voter registration technician.
In an email, McAllister said his wife’s brother has worked for the city “since before he was my brother-in-law,” indicating he had held a previous position with the city.
“He has a civil service position and is part of the union,” McAllister said.
The Ward 7 Democrat did not respond to questions regarding constituent concerns about favoritism playing a role in his and others’ relatives getting city jobs.
Ward 6 Democrat Donna Travis’s daughter has worked as a Warwick library technician since 2005. Councilwoman Travis has not responded yet to requests for comment.
Councilman Anthony Sinapi said he understands why constituents might be concerned, but argued they shouldn’t be.
“It looks bad,” Sinapi said. “But honestly it’s not, when you have very qualified people getting positions they should be getting. If they’re not qualified, that’s a problem.”
The four council members with relatives working for the city all voted in favor of the polarizing firefighters’ contract that was approved by a five to four vote at a January 6 meeting.
Critics have suggested there was a connection between the jobs and Mayor Joseph Solomon’s support for the agreement.
Howe was the only council member with a relative on the city payroll who responded to that claim, emphasizing his vote and daughter’s new job are unrelated.
“I can honestly tell you it has nothing to do with the firefighters contract. It has everything to do with my daughter taking initiative, applying for a job and later on being selected for that job,” Howe said.
Regarding concerns that her hire date is the same as the day of the firefighter vote, Howe pointed out the application and interview process had taken place several weeks before.
“I did my research on the contract,” Howe said. “That’s why I voted for it.”
Mayor Solomon praised the council members who voted for the contract, and insisted there was no connection between city jobs and the vote.
“I have never had a conversation with any council member regarding employment with the City in relation to a vote,” Solomon said in an emailed statement. “Any speculation connecting these individuals with the recently approved Fire contract would be void of fact.”
Ward 2 Democrat Jeremy Rix did not criticize the hirings, but pointed out he does not “have any relatives working for the city.”
“Nor to the best of my knowledge have any of my relatives applied for any position with the city since I was elected to the City Council in 2016,” Rix said.
Ward 1 Democrat Richard Corley said he understands “why someone would say it looks like there’s favoritism.”
“That is something that reflects on the city,” Corley said. “It’s not something I would do if I was doing the hiring.”
Ward 5 Democrat Edgar Ladouceur chose not to comment on the record, and Council President Steve Merolla was unavailable for comment.
Several council members said under state law, the hirings do not qualify as nepotism.