BLACKSTONE, Mass. –A former director of the North Providence senior center, who remains battling city officials, has been hired to head the Blackstone senior center.
The Blackstone Board of Selectmen last week confirmed Karen Testa, former director of the Salvatore Mancini Resource & Activity Center in North Providence, as the new director of the Blackstone Senior Center. Testa was due to start on Tuesday January 18.
“I plan to be here myself to wish her luck and show her that we are going to support her until the end,” President Robert Dubois said after the January 10 unanimous vote. the low.
Testa replaces Laurie Keefe, who left her position as director of the senior center in October. Former outreach coordinator Robin Brophy has served as acting director since then.
Testa will receive $58,000 in the new role.
Testa worked for more than 30 years at the Salvatore Mancini Resource and Activity Center in North Providence, where her 20-year tenure as director ended amid a battle over the center’s finances. In 2017, city officials cut $500,000 in city funding from the former nonprofit senior center and decided to turn it into a city-run facility after city council members said center officials failed to provide requested financial information. Members of the center’s board of directors at the time said they had provided all the requested information, but city officials countered that the information was not complete.
City officials opted not to renew Testa’s contract in January 2018 when it transitioned to a city-run facility.
She later sued the city, saying the decision to stop funding the senior center and make it a city-run operation, as well as the non-renewal of her contract, was retaliation for her support. to Mayor Charles Lombardi’s opponent in the 2016 election, Kristen Catanzaro. The lawsuit also cites a 2015 lawsuit against the city to restore grant funding to the Mancini Center and a 2017 libel lawsuit against Lombardi as reasons for the retaliation.
But the 2017 vote to defund the center came three years into the battle over center finances, beginning well before the 2016 election where Lombardi defeated Catanzaro. Council President Dino Autiello, who ended up being one of three noes in a 4-3 vote to defund the center in May 2017, said two months before that if he had done what Testa did during elections by actively campaigning against his employer, he would likely be fired.
Lombardi said this week that Testa’s trial is still ongoing.
He said officials still don’t understand why the center’s costs are so high as a nonprofit, saying Testa treats the facility as its own domain with no need for accountability. The city continues to save big on overall operations since it resumed, he said.
“She was fired because what she did was wrong,” he said. “I wonder why they (Blackstone) haven’t contacted us to see what happened. Our gain is their loss.
According to North Providence’s chief financial officer, Maria Vallee, the city now saves between $250,000 and $300,000 a year on its operations.
Lombardi said he still had questions about the documentation that was never recovered. The issue of the shredded paperwork will be important in his trial against him, he said.
“I wish him good health.”
Blackstone town officials have defended the rental, with Dubois recounting The Valley Breeze last Friday he was aware of Testa’s lawsuit against North Providence but does not believe it had anything to do with Blackstone.
“Each community has its policy. Just like we have ours and North Providence has theirs, and things happened that way. It’s a very political city, there’s no doubt about it. We believe she is highly qualified. She was a senior manager and assistant manager there for many years,” he said.
Dubois said the city needs someone with experience to lead the center into the future, including moving it to a larger location.
“I know the politics going on in North Providence. Every city has them. But I think she will be fine,” he said.
Blackstone Town Administrator Dori Vecchio, who recommended the appointment, said she had gone through the same hiring process with Testa as with most of her other hires since she started with the city last year. She and another department head reviewed resumes and three candidates were selected for interviews. Testa, she said, had 20 years of experience in a senior center, while the other candidates were no more than four months old. References were checked and an offer of employment was made.
“I will not talk about someone’s political background because it has no bearing on their position here, although I am aware of it,” she said.
“People who bring up past issues with this candidate are upset that I didn’t hire the candidate they wanted me to hire. My job is not to acquiesce to political pressure but to make a decision that benefits the town of Blackstone, which I did.
Julie Wingate, chair of the Blackstone Council on Aging, which serves as an advisory board to the senior center, said the council had no influence over the hiring process. She and other board members became aware of the controversy at North Providence by reading articles online after she was hired, she said.
“It could be a problem because of that, but we have to play it by ear,” she said.
His biggest concern, Wingate said, is that the center also recently lost its outreach coordinator, so the new director will be working alone (the position has been posted). Wingate said she was also concerned that coming from North Providence, the new director would try to implement changes at the center.
“They don’t like a lot of change,” she said of seniors. “I’m just concerned about that, bringing big city ideas to a small town.”
Testa could not be reached for comment at press time.