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Friday, October 7, 2011

Lisa DiBello – the story so far

A reader’s guide to PC coverage
By Will Collette

If you’re new to reading Progressive Charlestown (or new to Charlestown), you may be wondering why we’ve done so many stories about Charlestown Town Council member Lisa DiBello. Since Tom Ferrio and I started Progressive Charlestown about six months ago, she has been frequently featured.

DiBello is a controversial and colorful figure. She is the first Town Council member in anyone’s memory who is simultaneously serving and suing (or at least threatening to sue) the town. She was fired one year ago as Parks and Recreation director. Then she ran for, and won, her seat on the Council on a sympathy vote and her campaign slogan “Because I care.”

She is a complicated person and the issues that swirl around her are complicated, too. To help you keep track and to bring you up to speed on the back story, here is an annotated guide to Progressive Charlestown’s coverage of her.

Last February, we first pointed out that DiBello’s most vocal public supporter is Ex-Council member Jim Mageau. Even though DiBello disavowed any connection to Mageau when she ran for office in 2010, since then Mageau has blown that disclaimer out of the water. In this article, Mageau blasts DiBello’s council colleagues for wondering whether DiBello’s legal action against the town over her firing might pose a conflict of interest.

March 30: we began intensive coverage of DiBello’s formal legal action against the town and ten present and former town officials. DiBello filed a formal complaint with the RI Human Rights Commission alleging her 2010 firing was “retaliatory” and the product of an official conspiracy that started in 2005. According to DiBello, the conspiracy climaxed when former Town Administrator Richard Sartor and present Town Administrator (then Hopkinton TA) Bill DiLibero made a secret deal. In return for getting the higher paying Charlestown job, DiLibero would finish the job Sartor started to push DiBello out of her job We encourage readers to read the actual complaint (starts after page 7).

May 7: DiBello joins with Councilor Dan Slattery in the belief that wind turbines cause terrible health effects – a pseudo-scientific claim thoroughly discredited by scientists and environmentalists.

May 10: The Town Council approves a new town budget that includes an additional $100,000 to cover added legal costs likely under DiBello’s legal actions and other lawsuits. Also, the town officials named in her complaint ask the town to pay for private attorneys to defend them against DiBello’s charges.

June 16-17: in three separate articles here, here and here, we covered the open outbreak of hostilities on the Council. DiBello publicly tore into Town Administrator Bill DiLibero for his report to the Council that DiBello was interfering with town staff in violation of town policy. DiBello, citing secret sources, counter-attacked against DiLibero, Council President Tom Gentz and her special enemy, fellow Councilor Gregg Avedisian. This remarkable public display sparked my curiosity and started me on doing in-depth research.

June 20: after reviewing the video of the just completed Town Council meeting, it became clear to me that the town faced gridlock unless DiBello decided whether she was more interested in serving the town or suing the town.

July 8: the battle between DiBello, Town Administrator DiLibero and DiBello’s successor at Parks and Recreation Jay Primiano escalated when Primiano filed a complaint and testimony about alleged misconduct by DiBello at the town beaches. This complaint was never publicly discussed, at DiBello’s request.

Instead, as we reported on July 12, DiBello and Primiano traded barbed letters firing sharply worded accusations at each other.

July 24: Jim Mageau launches an attack against Town Administrator DiLibero in support of DiBello. Mageau used false, inaccurate and over-blown statements in his attack and I showed, point by point, why Mageau was wrong.

September 20: Progressive Charlestown launches a series of investigative articles on DiBello. The first installment was on the odd monopoly held by DiBello’s long-time housemate and business associate Deborah Dellolio on the contract for concession rights at Charlestown Town Beach. Since 2001, Dellolio has won the contract usually without opposition. On the two occasions where she had competition, the bidding process left unresolved questions. One thing is not in question: DiBello’s friend paid the town only $17,002 for the beach concession while the concessionaires at Blue Shutters Beach paid the town almost $60,000.

September 22: in the series’ second installment, I show how DiBello advocated for the town to award contracts to her housemate, friend and business associate in apparent violation of state ethics rules against conflict of interest that cost town taxpayers thousands of dollars in lost revenue.

September 28: in the third installment, I showed that Dellolio’s food service had not had a Health Department inspection in over five years, and may have violated state and federal laws regarding workers compensation and payment of wages.

October 3: I shifted my reporting to the non-profit charity that DiBello and her housemate Deborah Dellolio ran from their home since 2000. In this first look at that charity, I reported on a car DiBello won on a game show. DiBello told Channel 12 she was going to sell the car and give the money to the charity. Instead, she kept the car and then transferred it to Dellolio. DiBello promoted her promise to donate the car on a fund-raising video created and marketed by her brother Mark Anthony DiBello, a game show guru. Donations were directed to a PayPal account held by her brother.

Coverage on DiBello and Dellolio, and their business dealings, will pick up on Monday.