Did Bristol senior center director double dip?

Maria Ursini insists not; town salary cut in half

By Patrick Luce
Posted 7/20/17

Town Administrator Steven Contente has cut the senior center director’s salary in half after saying she was “double dipping” by taking salary from a substance abuse prevention grant …

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Did Bristol senior center director double dip?

Maria Ursini insists not; town salary cut in half

Posted

Town Administrator Steven Contente has cut the senior center director’s salary in half after saying she was “double dipping” by taking salary from a substance abuse prevention grant for which the department applied last year.

Director Maria Ursini said she was “absolutely not” double dipping and all income she received from the grants had been approved by the former town administrator. Still, she said she accepts the $20,000 salary reduction and will move forward.
After assuming office in town hall last December, Mr. Contente said he reviewed the salaries of all department heads — to which Ms. Ursini’s position had been elevated under former Administrator Tony Teixeira — when he learned that Ms. Ursini’s salary was being supplemented by two outside sources. Her town salary totaled $41,000 a year, but she was also earning $42,000 a year from a Drug Free Communities grant and $9,800 a year from a Substance Abuse Taskforce stipend.

“During the budget process, I was looking at salaries and found out she was, as I see it, double dipping,” Mr. Contente said. “Grant funds are supposed to supplant salary, not supplement it. How can you hold down two full-time jobs? It seems there are ethics violations there. It’s not the money; it’s the shiftiness.”

Mr. Contente also learned that the senior center director does not actually report to town officials, and that there was actually no job description with the town Personnel Board. The position, while funded by the town, is hired by the board of directors, to whom the director reports. Mr. Contente set out to change that as well, filing legislation with the Town Council to establish a “coordinator of senior services” position who is appointed by the town administrator and reports to the director of Parks and Recreation. Ms. Ursini’s duties for both positions are combined into one, and some of her senior center administrative duties have been pushed to her assistant, Donna Wilson.

“We’re trying to build a position in line with what her duties are, and update her job description,” Mr. Contente said. “She didn’t report to anyone. We weren’t responsible for her actions. I want nothing more than a level of accountability.”

Ms. Ursini — who actually started her work for the town as a substance abuse coordinator before becoming senior center director — said Mr. Contente’s position caught her by surprise because her predecessor, Mr. Teixeira, approved the duties and income that came with the Drug -Free Communities grant. Indeed, Mr. Teixeira signed the grant application, which was awarded last summer in the amount of $125,000 a year, $90,000 of which is set aside for personnel costs. Half of the salary goes to Ms. Ursini; the reminder to Ms. Wilson.

“I absolutely was not (double dipping),” Ms. Ursini said. “I didn’t do work for the grant while I was doing my work for the senior center. The drug free communities grant work is not one I have to sit at a desk 9-5. I’m here to work, to do my job and service my community. But I feel like the finiger’s been pointed at me.”

The drug-free communities grant and Substance Abuse Taskforce stipend carry such duties as organizing educational programs in Bristol Warren schools, conducting surveys of students to learn drug and alcohol abuse patterns in area youth, and coordinating drug prevention seminars like one involving school, law enforcement and town officials at the Quinta Gamelin Center in January. Ms. Ursini said she believes in the effectiveness of such programs and wants to make a difference in the community, which has spurred her to apply for the drug-free communities grant for the last six years before securing the grant this year.

“I’m not here for the money. If this was about money, why would I work for the senior center for $41,000,” Ms. Ursini said, noting she used personal time for the town for any travel or training sessions associated with the grant. “I just do my job the best I can. It’s sad what’s been going on here the past couple months; every day’s been a challenge. I don’t feel I undermined anyone. This is all out in the public. I didn’t expect to get that call. But when he said this doesn’t look good, I said, OK, what can we do?”

Mr. Contente said Ms. Ursini was open and cooperative when he asked her about the grants, and agreed to accept the salary reduction while retaining the income from the grant for as long as it is awarded. Should the town stop receiving the grant, Ms. Ursini would revert back to her $41,000 town salary, plus any due raises. She will also have her full salary added to the public pension program, Mr. Contente said, which will be paid by the salary reduction.

Ms. Ursini confirmed she is cooperating with the plan, and wants only to ensure seniors in Bristol continue to receive the level of service to which they’re accustomed.

“I’m a little worried funds could go elsewhere instead of seniors,” Ms. Ursini said. “My worries are just I would still like seniors to have a say in what we do going forward.”

Mr. Contente assured that his intent is not to subtract anything from seniors.

“We’re not looking to close the senior center to limit services,” Mr. Content said. “If anything, we want to increase services. We want nothing more than a level of accountability.”

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