NORTH PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — North Providence Town Council President Dino Autiello said Friday the council is going to take a closer look at its finance director’s controversial compensation after a Target 12 investigation revealed she has been taking home two salaries for multiple years.
Target 12 reported Thursday that Maria Vallee, the longtime town controller, has been serving as finance director since at least 2018 — without giving up her salary as controller. The two paychecks, combined with a longevity bonus and retroactive pay tied to her continued membership in the municipal union, pushed Vallee’s pay to a grand total of $181,000 in the 2019-20 fiscal year.
North Providence Mayor Charles Lombardi initially defended Vallee’s compensation, arguing it saves taxpayers money to have one person do two jobs. But the mayor backtracked once Target 12 pointed out that the arrangement appears to violate the town charter, which prohibits paying any department head two salaries at once.
“This wasn’t a good story for the town,” Autiello said in an interview, saying he’d heard from a lot of constituents in North Providence who were concerned by Target 12’s findings.
“It is unfortunate,” he said. “We’re going to take every means necessary to correct it.”
Lombardi had said he assumed members of the Town Council supported paying Vallee both salaries, and last year Vallee herself acknowledged she was collecting both under questioning at a hearing.
But Autiello said council members thought Vallee was just receiving out-of-rank union pay for the second job, not the full salary. “As the council, when we prepare the budget we don’t get payroll records,” he said.
Lombardi called Autiello after his initial interview with Target 12 to inform him about the situation, including the fact that Vallee was both a member of the union in her role as town controller and a member of management in her role as finance director. She received roughly $33,000 in retroactive pay last year under the terms of a settlement with the union.
“He said, ‘You have my word — I am taking her out of the union immediately,'” Autiello recalled. “So we’ll see when that happens.”
Autiello said the Town Council will be scrutinizing how Vallee’s unusual compensation structure came about during its upcoming budget hearings. He also said he plans to call a special meeting about her situation and will be asking the town solicitor to examine it.
“On the surface it does appear it violates the town charter,” he said.
This isn’t the first time Vallee has been in hot water at North Providence Town Hall.
In 2013, Vallee was punished by the U.S. attorney and the R.I. Ethics Commission for illegally obtaining a federally funded loan for home renovations through the town while serving a previous stint as acting finance director. By then she had already stepped down from that role and gone back to being controller. In 2018, however, Lombardi made her acting finance director again.
“That is concerning,” Autiello said of Vallee’s previous legal troubles. “I had just got on the council when that was all being resolved, that situation. I believe everyone deserves a second chance, and Maria has done a fine job as finance director.”
“Unfortunately this situation sheds another bad light on the town,” he said.
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram