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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Deadlock broken in DiBello lawsuit

Ethics Commission authorizes both Marge Frank and Gregg Avedisian to participate in decisions in the DiBello case
By Will Collette

I reported earlier that Charlestown had gotten a positive decision from the staff of the RI Ethics Commission that unfroze the Town Council deadlock over DiBello v. Charlestown, the lawsuit brought by Council member Lisa DiBello against the town, the Town Administrator and eight other present and past town officials.

The lawsuit stems from DiLibero’s decision to ask the Town Council to fire DiBello from her position as Parks and Recreation Director in May 2010. That dismissal led to DiBello’s decision to run for Town Council, where she became the swing vote that gives the CCA the Council majority.

The CCA is now counting on her to provide the deciding vote in any motion made to fire DiLibero – despite the gross conflict of interest that would represent for DiBello.

At the Monday, April 9, Town Council meeting, DiBello declared that she would not take part in deliberations on the Town Administrator’s fate until she gets the clearance to do so from the RI Ethics Commission. That presumes the Ethics Commission overlooks the unseemly picture of a Council member casting the revenge vote against the person who fired her and is one of the lead defendants in her lawsuit.

Because DiBello is also suing two other sitting Council membersGregg Avedisian and Marge Frank – the Council has been unable to act on her demand for a payoff of $1.5 million to drop the case or any of her other demands. Ethics rules barred Avedisian and Frank from taking part in any deliberations on a case in which they have a direct interest in the outcome.

With DiBello barred under ethics rules from acting in matters directly relating to her case, that left only two Council members eligible to take action: DiBello’s allies, CCA's Tom Gentz and Deputy Dan Slattery. The Town Charter requires a minimum of three Councilors to be in agreement to take any Council action.

After months of deadlock, Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero was able to get the Ethics Commission to consider issuing an exemption under the hardship provisions of the state ethics law that would allow the Council to have a working quorum.

The Ethics Commission staff wrote an earlier letter saying there was no doubt that DiBello would, under all circumstances, be ethically barred from participating, but that Marge Frank could participate, since her only role in the DiBello case was to vote for her dismissal.

The Ethics Commission staff deferred to the full Commission on whether Councilor Gregg Avedisian could participate in discussions, since DiBello alleges in her case that Avedisian played an active role in the elaborate, five-year conspiracy against her.

Now the full Commission has ruled and sent the Town their decision. They affirmed the staff’s opinion that DiBello is permanently barred from participating and that Marge Frank can participate.

They also cleared Councilor Avedisian to take part as well.

But even though Marge Frank and Gregg Avedisian have been authorized to participate in Council deliberations, it doesn’t mean the Council will actually take any action.

Under the Town Charter, all Council actions must be approved by at least three Council members. In most controversial matters, these four council members routinely deadlock, with the CCA Councilors Tom Gentz and Deputy Dan Slattery voting together against Frank and Avedisian.

And let’s not forget that Gentz and Slattery need DiBello’s continued support to maintain their control of the Council.