HomeNewsTown Confirms Appointment of Fired Woonsocket Finance Director

Town Confirms Appointment of Fired Woonsocket Finance Director

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Tonight at the Hopkinton Select Board meeting, Cindy Johnston was hired as the new Town Accountant, replacing Liz Rourke, who vacated the position last year.

In introducing Johnston, Kristin Merril, the town’s HR Generalist, said the the town had six candidates apply, interviewed 4, and after an “exhaustive interview”, Johnston was the selected candidate.

What was not disclosed in tonight’s meeting or in Johnston’s resume is that in November, Johnston was fired by the City of Woonsocket, swept up in a scandal that engulfed then mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, who was forced to resign.

As reported by The Valley Breeze, Badelli-Hunt, on behalf of the city, unilaterally entered into an agreement to purchase a piece of land for $1.1 million without the authorization of the City Council. The owner of the land was a real estate developer, Raymond Bourque. Badelli-Hunt denied having a relationship with Bourque, but later journalists at WPRI uncovered that Badelli-Hunt once listed Bourque as an employer, and that she and her husband had previously borrowed $182,000 from him to purchase their current home.

The land in question was last assessed at less than $200,000, and no appraisal was performed prior to the agreement to purchase. As the city’s Finance Director, Cindy Johnston wrote the check for the property. The council has since reversed the decision to purchase the property.

Johnston “was intentionally hiding information from the very individuals who have the authority to control ‘every penny’ that the city spends,” said Woonsocket City Councilor Brian Thompson, who coincidentally grew up in Hopkinton, as did his wife, Christine.

Her answers during the special meeting last week demonstrated a lack of leadership and a failure to protect the finances of the people we serve,” said Thompson.

The city of Woonsocket deserves a finance director who is dedicated to upholding the highest standards of integrity, transparency, and accountability. We cannot afford to have someone in this crucial position who disregards their responsibilities and makes excuses for their shortcomings,” continued Thompson.

Incoming Woonsocket Mayor Chris Beauchamp agreed, and fired Johnston. “It seems obvious that Ms. Johnston failed to exercise her most basic responsibilities and duties,” wrote former City Councilor Jim Cournoyer in an email to Beauchamp.

Tonight, several Hopkinton Select Board members commented on Johnston’s “impressive resume”. “I love your story,” said Board member Ifran Nasrullah. “You have an impressive municipal finance background, and I want to welcome you to town hall,” said Board member Amy Ritterbusch.

Johnston was confirmed by Hopkinton’s Select Board in a unanimous decision, and is expected to start immediately.

HopNews requested a comment from Town Manager Norman Khumalo, who replied with the following written statement:

The Town of Hopkinton hired Cindy Johnston after a thorough interview and screening process. She was honest and forthcoming throughout the process, and we are looking forward to Cindy’s work in Hopkinton, as we are very confident in her skills and qualifications.”

Select Board Chair Muriel Kramer added this:

I was not part of the hiring process, but I have complete confidence in all who were and in the process itself. I have been through the interviewing process myself as an interviewer for the town and can assure residents that we are very well served by those that vet potential hires to join the team here. Interviews are professional and comprehensive; references are of course checked and considered in the decisions. We consider past employment and reasons for leaving. In this case I was told in advance to expect news coverage. Now it is my hope and expectation that residents reading this will recognize that Google searches can’t tell us all we need to know about anything, especially not about people. We have confidence in Ms. Johnston and welcome her to the team.

Johnston with town officials, following her confirmation.
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27 COMMENTS

  1. When it rains, it pours.

    Her references must have been so compelling that there wasn’t a need to do a simple “google” search.

    • Amy Ritterbusch, by her own admission in her Candidate Questionnaire for the elected position of Select Board member, is a “hard worker” who “[does her] research:”

      Interesting, don’t you think?

  2. Well, first page of a Google search lists the story…perhaps our Personnel Committee and HR department can comment on if this was vetted, and if not, maybe we add a Google search for candidates.

  3. I have no problem giving a person a second chance. That said, I am concerned if the individual did not reveal this in an interview (I presume grounds for dismissal), and if our HR department did not identify the issue. Equally concerning would be what I suspect is the more likely situation, that the town knew of this issue, and choose not to let the public know. Hiding the truth in a situation like this only serves to undermine the ability of the individual to do their job.

    • I completely agree. You’d think if the town knew about this past issue, they’d try and get out in front of it. Not to embarrass the candidate but to let the town know they are aware but even still they think she’s qualified and up for the task. Without doing this it makes the Select Board once again look like they didn’t do their homework.

    • Second chance? She lied during the mayor’s removal hearings back in 2022 as well….as soon as Baldelli-Hunt took office after being re-elected by running unopposed, Cindy was given a raise. Ask anyone in Woonsocket how many raises she was given while she was here….

  4. Hopefully the SB isn’t sticking it to us with this hiring. But rather, hired the most qualified and trustworthy (eye roll) candidate for this position. Time will tell.

  5. FYI readers, we have asked the Town Manager and Select Board for a response to the following questions, and will post an update.

    1. Did the town know about Johnston’s termination from Woonsocket, or did she not disclose this?

    2. If we knew, are we OK with this? What is the town’s official position on so-called “second chances”?

    3. Did Johnston provide references, and if so, were they contacted?

    4. Kristen M. said that Johnston underwent an “exhaustive interview”. Was Johnston asked why she left her previous place of employment?

    5. Are background checks / previous employment checks standard practice for new town employees? Or just a Google / social media search?

      • The statement doesn’t really answer the questions/concerns. Are we to assume that “She was honest and forthcoming throughout the process, …” means the committee knew about and discussed the involvement in the Woonsocket issue and there were no lies of omission? If so why not say so and stop speculation?

      • It would appear from the town manager’s comments that the town was aware of the issue, and decided not to reveal this to the public. I do understand a first reaction of not “outing” the person but in today’s world that makes no sense. She’s put in the awful position of waiting for the whispers to start from coworkers, and wondering who coming to town hall will treat her differently because of what they presume as secret knowledge. Far better to get the information out and dealt with. Especially as the town faces serious questions about a lack of transparency on other matters. Poor judgement, once again.

  6. I’m surprised there were not criminal charges brought against her. Does RI have a state ethics commission?

    BTW I thought the Town Manager left?

  7. Once again, HopNews demonstrates the value of their newspaper to the Hopkinton Community. One wonders if this story would have ever seen the light of day if it were not for the professionalism and diligence of the HopNews staff. Well done!

  8. It’s a sad state of affairs when Hopkinton is hiring washed up talent from a second rate Rhode Island city…I remember the days when Hop was more like Cumberland or Barrington…now on the fast track to becoming Woonsocket’like…(RI native *IYKYK / 20+ Year Hop taxpayer)

  9. Local elections have consequences too. Less than 20% of town residents show up at town elections. But run to vote in national elections. Ass backwards. Local elections are even more important, more closely affecting our day to day lives. It’s the same small percentage of voters that get their way time after time.
    How can anyone look around and not mobilize themselves to VOTE?!
    Instead we get suspected corruption, bad candidates we don’t trust, an absolute engineering debacle and dangerous traffic thanks to a “bike lane” and exorbitant property taxes, new schools and lots of abandoned town buildings. Why aren’t our elected officials held accountable anymore?
    We can do better. Get out and vote in local elections!!

  10. Former employee here.
    I ask you. What self respecting member of the Mass Accountants Association would associate themselves with Hopkinton right now? Of course there was an exhaustive search. There was probably a lot of begging and pleading too. And I’m sure quite a nice employment offer as well. This was a perfect scenario. She needed the job as much as Hopkinton needed her. Now let’s see if she can do the job with the obstacles she has in front of her.

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