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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

UPDATE: DiBello wants $1,500,000 from town taxpayers to drop complaint

Councilor serves demand letter on the town, town responds
 By Will Collette

UPDATE: the Westerly Sun picked up on this story and ran it on Page 1, top of the fold. It is in their public access section, not behind the pay wall. Click here. The Sun article refers you back here to see the actual documents that I have posted at the end of this article.

As the deadline set by the “Right to Sue” notice she received from the RI Human Rights Commission draws near, Council member Lisa DiBello has offered the town a settlement that would end her legal actions over her May 2010 firing by the Town Council and Town Administrator William DiLibero.

The town can either (a) pay her $1.5 million and she will drop the matter or (b) the town can pay her $500,000, plus an additional $150,000 for her lawyer and also give her back her old job as Director of Parks and Recreation. Current director Jay Primiano would have to go. DiBello also demands that she set the terms of her employment under Option B. See the terms in the letter at the end of this article

DiBello’s lawyer Robert Savage also argues that DiBello has a lot more time to file a lawsuit in Superior Court than was stated in the Human Rights Commission’s Right to Sue letter. He claims she has at least another 40 days and probably a lot more. Click here to see the article containing the Human Rights Commission Right to Sue document.

Savage details the reasons for the amounts in DiBello’s claim, including her lost earnings, loss of future earnings, benefits, pension credits, and that “her general quality of life has been significantly diminished as a result of the actions of the Town’s agents against her.” Read the full text of the letter, below for the details.

Savage says that DiBello has not been able to find other work and can’t pay her bills.

On January 5, Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero responded on behalf of the town. He told attorney Savage that because of Councilor DiBello’s actions and subsequent lack of action, the Council is unable to even consider DiBello’s demand. See Ruggiero's letter, below.

When DiBello filed her complaint against the town in May, she included two sitting Council members, Gregg Avedisian and Marge Frank, in the long list of present and former town officials. They both voted to fire DiBello in May 2010.

Because they are “respondents” in DiBello’s administrative complaint to the Human Rights Commission, and likely defendants in any future lawsuit, ethics rules require them to recuse themselves from any Council actions regarding DiBello’s case.

DiBello herself is required by the state ethics law to recuse herself from any matter involving her case.

That leaves only two Council members eligible to vote – the two CCA Council members (and DiBello political allies) Tom Gentz and Dan Slattery. Ironically, under a 2010 Charter Revision change pushed by the CCA, it takes three Council members to vote to pass any Council action. So for months, the Council has been unable to act on the DiBello case.

Town Solicitor Ruggiero told Councilor DiBello and her lawyer Savage that there was a resolution to this logjam: DiBello can ask the RI Ethics Commission for a “hardship exemption” under the Ethics Commission’s “Rule of Necessity.” But neither DiBello nor her lawyer have taken any action to resolve the logjam since it arose last June.

So to recap this complicated ethical conundrum, because of DiBello's legal action, the Council does not have a quorum to consider her case, and because of DiBello's inaction – failure to ask the Ethics Commission for a hardship exemption – this problem remains unresolved, as it has for months.

I’ve gotten expert advice that the demand for job restoration is a common ploy by litigants in cases like this to boost the likelihood of getting a larger cash amount.

In DiBello’s case, there is a second Ethics law hurdle: the rule against “revolving door” employment. As a Town Council member, DiBello may not take a job with the town until one year after leaving office. R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(o)

There is no mention in attorney Savage’s letter about DiBello’s Town Council seat, i.e., whether she plans to resign, serve out her term or run for re-election.

EDITOR'S NOTE: there is no such thing as "CORBA" which attorney Savage uses twice. DiBello's ace attorney is obviously referring to "COBRA," the federal unemployment benefit that allows unemployed workers to continue their employer's health coverage for a certain time, and, for eligible workers, at a substantial discount.

Editor's note: that last line, "I will wait for a response from the Town for at least 40 days," is odd, given that DiBello is supposedly destitute. Under the "Right to Sue" notice from the RI Human Rights Commission, Savage can file suit NOW. Could it be that Savage is uncertain about his chances in court?

And the town's response: