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Sunday, May 17, 2015

DiBello get green light to go after her old job

Ethics Commission cracks open the “revolving door”
By Will Collette
Lisa DiBello during one of her several game show appearances. Does she
have a "Ray of Hope" of getting her old job back?
Ex-Town Council member Lisa DiBello has been given the go-ahead by the RI Ethics Commission to bid for her old job as Parks and Recreation Director.

DiBello has a long and colorful history in Charlestown that started in 1988 when she was first hired as Parks & Recreation Director. 

The first big public flap occurred in 2005 when she reported overhearing a lewd conversation about various Charlestown women between former Town Administrator and current Budget Commission chair Dick Sartor and Tax Assessor Ken Swain.

Later, in 2010, DiBello was fired as Parks & Recreation Director by former Town Administrator Bill DiLibero as the result of an alleged conspiracy between DiLibero and Sartor in retaliation for reporting the 2005 conversation, according to her 2011 complaint to the state Human Rights Commission.

DiBello filed her complaint after being elected to the Town Council where she provided the CCA Party with the third vote they needed to control the Council.

DiBello offered to settle the complaint for $1.5 million. After the town rejected that offer, DiBello filed suit in state District Court against the town and numerous town officials claiming they conspired to wrongfully discharge her. 

That lawsuit dragged on until August 2014 when DiBello and the Town settled for $450,000 to DiBello, a release of all claims and no admission of fault or responsibility by either side.

After DiBello signed and submitted the agreement to get her money in September 2014, she pulled out of her race for a third term on the Town Council.

But then, her nemesis Parks and Recreation Director Jay Primiano was forced to resign last month.
Under the anti-revolving door provision of the Rhode Island Ethics Act and Code, elected officials may not take a staff position in the same jurisdiction for at least one year after leaving office.

That would have barred DiBello from going after any Charlestown municipal staff position until at least November 2015, one year after she left office as a Town Council member.

DiBello asked the Ethics Commission for an opinion on whether the one-year prohibition applied to her, given the back-story. On April 28, here’s what the Ethics Commission decided:
From the Ethics Commission news release of their April 28 decisions

As the Ethics Commission’s full opinion states, in July 2014, DiBello had originally posed the hypothetical question to them of what if reinstatement as Parks & Recreation Director was part of her settlement with the town. Would she be barred by the revolving door rule? The Commission declined to answer, saying it was too hypothetical.

But after Primiano resigned, DiBello asked the Commission again whether the one-year ban still applied. The Commission decided DiBello could apply to file Primiano’s vacant position. 

In order to actually take the position, presuming it was offered, DiBello would either have to wait until November, the end of the one-year waiting period, or ask the Ethics Commission for another ruling if she wants to take the position earlier.

The Commission went to great pains to say that their opinion in favor of DiBello applies only to DiBello because of the unusual (if not unique) circumstances and not to anyone else. They generally want to strictly enforce the anti-revolving door rule.
Time to start the pool to pick how long he's going to last

In my opinion, the anti-revolving door rule is the one thing that has prevented the Town Council from pushing Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz out so he can be replaced by former Town Councilor and present CCA Party Treasurer Dan Slattery

Slattery applied for the Administrator job that was given to Bill DiLibero. When he didn’t get the Administrator job, Slattery ran for Council.

According to GoLocalProv, Stankiewicz’s $119,400 compensation package in Fiscal Year 2015 made him the 22nd highest paid municipal official in Rhode Island even though he’s only been on the job since February 2013.

But Stankiewicz’s time may be up when Slattery completes his one-year revolving door time in November. The fact that Stankiewicz just got a glowing recommendation from the Town Council makes his ouster even more probable, given that’s the pattern in Charlestown - praise them one month and boot them the next. In this case, there's Slattery, the heir-apparent, in the wings.

What better way for the CCA Party to really put its stamp on the town.

But for now, the question is what the CCA Party, which owns every seat on the Town Council, will do with an application from Lisa DiBello to go back to being Parks & Recreation Director at a time when the town faces a showdown over its recreation priorities.

Charlestown is awash with open space - more than
50% of total acreage. This is from the CCA's own
open space guide.
The CCA Party Town Council has already made its priorities clear – their only interest is in expanding open space and not in parks and recreation. They also know how hard-headed DiBello can be in general and particularly on recreation issues.

I have never been a big DiBello fan and have, in fact, been one of her harshest public critics. But I don't doubt her devotion to town recreation. 

The CCA Party does not share her view, not in the least. The CCA is clear in its intent to limit recreation to quiet walks, by appointment only of course, along the Charlestown Land Trust’s trails, or a bike ride with Deputy Dan or Faith Labossiere, and not more family fun at Ninigret Park. 

I doubt Lisa DiBello would fit in with the CCA’s program.

In fact, DiBello was one of the members of the audience at the special hearing on the proposed town budget to criticize the CCA Town Councilors refusal to respond to citizens’ questions about the town’s emphasis of open space over recreation.

Here’s how the Westerly Sun quoted her:
“I don’t understand why there are not answers to any of these questions. It almost makes me wonder if there’s a hidden agenda or something else going on, which really concerns me. It’s disheartening that there’s not more information given. I want to encourage the residents of Charlestown to do their homework and come out and vote either way.”
That probably didn’t win her many points with her prospective employers.

However, I’m sure the Council members are also aware that DiBello is prepared to take her grievances to court. If she applies for the job, the CCA Party Council members had better to be very careful to treat her as the law requires.

This issue may never come up. The scuttlebutt at Town Hall is that the CCA Party isn’t going to allow the position to be filled as part of its plan to starve active recreational activity to death, starting with shrinking the size of the staff. After this summer’s calendar of events is over, watch for the town to start discouraging new activities from taking place at Ninigret Park.

Even though Jay Primiano has been gone for over a month, the Parks & Recreation Director position has not been posted on the Town Jobs page of the official Town website as the time this article is being published.