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McKee yanks Jones from DHS consideration, citing defamation lawsuit

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Dan McKee said Tuesday he’s no longer considering Rose Amoros Jones to become director of the R.I. Department of Human Services, citing her involvement in an ongoing whistleblower and defamation lawsuit first reported by Target 12.

McKee said he still supports Jones in her current position as director of the R.I. Office of Healthy Aging, but that the unusual lawsuit would likely become a distraction in his effort to fill the DHS director job — which McKee described as a high priority for his administration.

“That whole process is a mess,” McKee said about the lawsuit during a State House news conference. “You don’t need to add more drama to the situation, which is what it would be. I mean, if you did move ahead, I think some headlines would be questioning that, right? So, we don’t need that right now.”

Jones and the state were sued last August by Jones’ former financial management administrator, Kathleen McNamara. She accuses Jones of unlawfully firing and defaming her after a dispute in 2020 involving McNamara’s refusal to make what she claims were “improper and illegal” personnel and financial decisions.

McKee declined to comment on the merits of the accusations, saying he doesn’t know enough about the particulars. But he underscored that he wants to allow the legal process play out and that he’s not interested in waiting for it to be over to fill the DHS director’s job, which became vacant when Courtney Hawkins stepped down last month.

“There is a priority in filling that position and we’re not prepared to move forward with Director Jones,” McKee said, adding later, “We can’t be waiting on a legal process.”

Jones declined to be interviewed about the lawsuit last week and her spokesperson Kerri White said their office does not comment on pending litigation. White could not be immediately reached for comment on Tuesday.

McNamara claims in her R.I. Superior Court complaint that Jones demanded she unlawfully allocate personnel costs to federal grant awards, then punished her for failing to do so.

“This was not a failure … but a knowing refusal to commit fraud,” McNamara’s attorney, Joseph Daigle, wrote in the complaint.

In a statement, Daigle told Target 12 last week the evidence is on his client’s side.

“There is overwhelming evidence that Kathleen McNamara was fired from her job for refusing to engage in fraudulent reporting practices at the Office of Healthy Aging,” he said. “We look forward to our day in court.”

In response to the complaint, special assistant attorney general Shannon Haibon mostly denied McNamara’s allegations, arguing instead that “the actions of the State Defendants were reasonable, proper and legal.” (The attorney general’s office typically represents the state’s executive branch in certain legal matters.)

“I do still support her, and I think that we need to let things play out,” McKee said of Jones on Tuesday. “We have a high priority to fill that position, so we’re going to post that and ask for people who are interested and try to fast-track that.”

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook

Tim White (twhite@wpri.com) is the Target 12 managing editor and chief investigative reporter at 12 News, and the host of Newsmakers. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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