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Monday, May 30, 2011

DiBello threatens court action against the town

Town Council member Lisa DiBello

Today’s Westerly Sun carried a page one scoop by Chris Keegan with major developments in Council member Lisa DiBello’s case against Charlestown and numerous past and present town officials. 

DiBello’s attorney Robert Savage told Keegan he plans to ask the RI Human Rights Commission to allow DiBello to skip the administrative complaint process and take her case directly to RI Superior Court. Savage says he will ask for a jury trial if permission is granted. He also told Keegan he chose this approach to speed up the process. Plus, the state courts are more favorable to plaintiffs than the federal system. DiBello also filed a complaint with the federal EEOC and could have sought to move the case to federal District Court.

NOTE: there’s a big difference between DiBello’s lawyer telling a Sun reporter he “plans” to ask permission to take the case to state court and actually filing the suit in state court. In cases like this, each side jockeys for leverage to improve its bargaining position for a settlement.

Note also that filing a charge is not the same as proving a charge, contrary to a flurry of anonymous comments posted on the Providence Craigslist in March and April.

Background: Lisa DiBello worked as Charlestown’s Parks and Recreation Director for more than 21 years until she was fired on the recommendation of Town Administrator Bill DiLibero in May 2010. She then ran for Town Council on the platform of “I Care” and won. Her most prominent public backer was ex-Council member Jim Mageau.

On the Council, DiBello has voted with the Charlestown Citizen Alliance Council members Tom Gentz and Dan Slattery, giving the CCA effective control of the Council.

DiBello filed charges on March 11, 2011 with the RI Human Rights Commission and the federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) alleging her 2010 firing was “retaliatory” .

Her complaint names the Town of Charlestown as well as these individuals:
  • Current Town Administrator William DiLibero*
  • Former Town Administrator and current chair of the town Budget Commission Richard Sartor*
  • Current Council member Gregg Avedisian*
  • Current Council member Marge Frank*
  • Former Council member Forrester Safford
  • Former Council member Charlene Dunn
  • Former Council member Richard Hosp
  • Current Police Chief Jack Shippee*
  • Current GIS Coordinator Stephen McCandless*
* Requested town payment for private defense lawyers

Her chronology starts in December 2005 when she claims she overheard a raunchy conversation involving former Town Administrator Sartor. She attempted to blow the whistle anonymously, but was required to give a formal statement. That, she alleges, triggered a 5-year vendetta and conspiracy by Sartor aided by Council member Avedisian, former Council member Safford, and featuring DiLibero in the final stages.

DiBello claims the vendetta went dormant when Jim Mageau ran the Council (2006-8), but began again with vigor after Mageau was defeated in November 2008.

In 2009, DiBello claims Sartor and unnamed others went to Hopkinton to recruit then Town Administrator DiLibero as Charlestown’s new Town Administrator. DiBello alleges DiLibero was offered the Charlestown job, which paid a higher salary, if he promised to either push DiBello out or fire her.

DiLibero was hired in summer 2009 and, according to DiBello’s chronology, they clashed nearly from the start. According to DiBello, after numerous battles spanning into 2010, Gregg Avedisian and Forrester Safford rallied the support of their three council colleagues to accept DiLibero’s recommendation to fire DiBello. Thus ended the retaliatory conspiracy.

On May 9, 2011, the Town Council addressed requests by DiLibero, Sartor, Shippee, McCandless, Frank and Avedisian that the town cover the cost for private defense lawyers. This request was tabled on the advice of Town Solicitor Peter Ruggerio who said the state Ethics Commission should be asked for an advisory opinion before the Council votes on the request. He noted there could be a conflict of interest for Council members Frank and Avedisian to vote on a measure that could directly benefit them.

At an earlier meeting, the Council did approve adding $100,000 to the town budget to cover litigation costs (e.g. DiBello's case, Whalerock, etc.)

Author: Will Collette