Professor's case study leads to confrontation with Barrington town manager
Lynn Ruggieri was looking for a case study to share with her students, but what she found instead was an uncomfortable confrontation with the town manager in Barrington.
Ms. Ruggieri, a professor of accounting at Roger Williams University, said that after analyzing the trash privatization financials for the town of Barrington and bringing her findings to the Barrington Times, she was shocked to learn that town manager Peter DeAngelis was upset with her and called the president of her college.
“I was stunned. I never expected that in my wildest dreams,” she said. “I was floored.”
Ms. Ruggieri said that were she not a tenured professor, she would fear for her job. She said the actions of the town manager are a personal attack against her and completely inappropriate.
“He’s a town employee,” she said. “Is this really America? Am I living in a different country?”
Mr. DeAngelis said he did call the president’s office at Roger Williams University because he felt that Ms. Ruggieri was attacking him. He said he believed “the university ought to know that she went to the newspaper.”
The town manager said he had offered Ms. Ruggieri a chance to sit down and discuss her findings regarding the town’s move from in-house refuse and recycling collection to a private vendor. He said he e-mailed her with an invitation to meet, but instead of setting a date, Ms. Ruggieri requested more data about privatization.
Shortly after she placed the request, Mr. DeAngelis placed a call with Roger Williams University administrators.
At the center of the confrontation are numbers.
Capital account projection numbers. Public works department budget numbers. MEGA Disposal contract numbers.
Ms. Ruggieri, a Barrington resident, said she began crunching the numbers in an effort to create a case study for students in one of her classes. She dug through reams of paperwork and budget projections and end-of-the-year audits and analyzed all the figures.
What she found, she said, was that privatization of refuse and recycling collection had cost Barrington taxpayers more money than the in-house service would have.
She went back through the town council meeting minutes and video recordings and listened to what officials had said. After completing her analysis, she decided to share her work. She said she had followed the Barrington Times’ coverage of the privatization issue back in 2010 and thought the newspaper was a good place to share her findings.
Mr. DeAngelis has questioned that decision.
The town manager said it would have been more constructive for Ms. Ruggieri to contact his office and discuss the information with him and the finance director.
“I’m not attacking her. I still welcome the opportunity to meet,” he said.
Ms. Ruggieri said she had considered meeting with Mr. DeAngelis initially, but has no intentions to do so following his call to her employer.
She said someone from the president’s office had also called her following Mr. DeAngelis’s call to the school. Ms. Ruggieri said officials requested a meeting that would include Mr. DeAngelis, but she’s not interested in that option, she said. She said the call by Mr. DeAngelis to the university president would have spelled an end to her work if she had not been a tenured professor.
“I would have closed it right down,” she said. “No way and I going to give up my job for this.”
Ms. Ruggieri said she loves her job at Roger Williams University. It was her passion for her position and the drive to inspire her students, she said, that led her to the privatization issue. She said she was searching for a situation that would build an interesting case study and recalled the town’s debate over whether to hire a private trash collection company.
Ms. Ruggieri is a certified public accountant, a certified fraud examiner, holds a degree in accounting and masters degree in taxation and accounting. She said she studied the town’s financials time and again and could not find the savings touted by officials during the privatization debate in 2010.
During a recent interview, Mr. DeAngelis, finance director Dean Huff and DPW director Alan Corvi challenged Ms. Ruggieri’s analysis. They said there were some problems with the way she crunched her numbers. They said there was specific data that had not been included and therefore led the RWU professor to inaccurate conclusions.
Ms. Ruggieri stands by her work, she said, and plans to offer the case study to students this spring. She said she will continue to pursue matters like this.
“I have academic freedom in my research,” she said.
The town manager said he feels that he did nothing wrong by contacting Ms. Ruggieri’s employer. He added: “She threatened my job.”