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.“