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Council president calls report on city clerk ‘horrific’ as clerk vows to fight ‘political process’

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Providence City Council will issue subpoenas to compel 19 witnesses to testify in the upcoming public hearing to potentially remove City Clerk Shawn Selleck, amid an intensifying battle over control of the usually low-profile clerk’s office.

Selleck has been accused of harassment and bullying by his subordinates but vehemently denies the allegations, calling them politically motivated. The council voted to issue the subpoenas at a meeting Thursday night, while also laying out the schedule and procedure for how the hearing will work.

In an interview with Target 12 earlier Thursday, Selleck accused City Council President John Igliozzi of commissioning a critical report on his behavior as a “tool to further his political interests” by installing a clerk of his choosing.

“This is a completely political process,” Selleck said. “I am willing to do what I can to continue pushing for transparency and I really hope that standing up to what really is a bully in City Hall will improve the city over the long term.”

In response, Igliozzi said the council could not “turn a blind eye” to the allegations of multiple female employees in the clerk’s office.

“Their statements and allegations were extremely disturbing,” Igliozzi told Target 12 on Thursday night. He called the council-commissioned report that prompted the removal proceedings “horrific.”

“It has the shades of Clinton-esque, Trumpian and Governor Cuomo,” Igliozzi said, referring to two former presidents and a former New York governor who have all faced sexual harassment or assault claims.

Selleck is facing no such accusations of sexual harassment or assault. Pressed on the comparison, Igliozzi said, “Harassment comes in numerous forms. The word is harassment, and no one in city government … should be subject to that.”

The upcoming public hearing — Providence’s version of an impeachment trial — is the culmination of months of turmoil on the third floor of City Hall over the situation in the clerk’s office. Selleck was initially placed on leave in June amid complaints from three of his deputy clerks, but in August he was reinstated after the city’s HR department found no substantiation for claims of a hostile work environment.

Council leaders responded by commissioning outside attorney Carly Iafrate to conduct her own investigation. In the meantime the deputy clerks requested transfers and got a police escort from the clerk’s office, while Selleck secured an order from the R.I. Supreme Court allowing him to return to his duties clerking City Council meetings.

After Iafrate completed her report and shared it with council members, they voted last month to bring a series of charges against Selleck, prompting the upcoming trial-like process. It has not been formally scheduled but is slated to take place around Nov. 16 and 17.

Igliozzi declined to speak about the specific allegations in the report, citing the fact that it has not been released publicly.

However, Target 12 obtained a copy of the report last month. It contains a series of complaints against Selleck, ranging from calling him annoying to accusing him of bullying and harassment.

The most significant claims come from the three deputy clerks, Tina Mastroianni, Angela Harris and Sheri Petronio.

In an email Mastroianni wrote to council leadership in August, after Selleck returned to the office, she said his “lack of leadership, knowledge and management skills have caused me to become both physically and mentally ill.”

“I’m sick to my stomach every morning going to work and I’ve recently started to get nose bleeds,” Mastroianni wrote.

Harris claimed Selleck held a door shut when she was trying to leave work.

“‘I said ‘no, the conversation is over, and you need to move and to move your hand,’ and he’s still holding the door,” the Iafrate report quotes Harris as saying. “I just stood there and I stared at him. So then he finally moved his hand from the door so I just snatched the doorway and I walked out.”

Asked about the Harris incident Thursday, Selleck denied holding the door shut, and said Harris had been refusing to do tasks he assigned her.

“She said it was administrative, and she didn’t do administrative work,” Selleck said. “Almost all the work in our office is administrative. … She wasn’t interested in answering the question of why she didn’t feel like she should have to do that work.”

“We were standing … I was closer to the door, and she left,” Selleck said.

The Iafrate report does include the accounts of two clerk’s office staffers who defended Selleck, and others are included on the witness list to testify at the public hearing. Selleck claims the Iafrate report was commissioned as a means to an end: to remove him from office and replace him with Mastroianni.

“It was a re-do,” Selleck said. “The council president was, like, we need to re-do this. Whatever they found in a truly independent report, that doesn’t serve my political interests.”

Asked why he commissioned a separate report after HR cleared Selleck, Igliozzi said the complaints from Selleck’s deputies never stopped.

“When the behavior and the complaints continue over and over again, when you have three female employees in a very difficult situation talking about a continuation of how they’re being treated in the office and how it’s affecting them physically and emotionally, you can’t just turn a blind eye to that,” Igliozzi said.

Igliozzi took control of the council in April, after Gov. Dan McKee appointed his predecessor Sabina Matos as lieutenant governor. Selleck said he immediately got the sense that Igliozzi wanted him gone, and he initially agreed to an arrangement where the deputy clerks would clerk many of the committee meetings, while Selleck would clerk the full City Council meetings and focus on other projects such as technology improvements.

“I knew that he had a lot more power than me,” Selleck said. “I wasn’t really interested in fighting with him at that time.”

But Selleck claims it later became clear that Igliozzi was trying to force him out. He said when he went into the office to use the city seal — which is one of the clerk’s duties under the charter — there was a negative reaction from council leaders, who didn’t want him interacting with his deputies. He was placed on administrative leave later that day.

“They were really trying to shove me aside,” Selleck said.

Selleck was elected by the council for a four-year term in 2019, when Matos was council president, and can only be removed by a vote of the council following a public hearing.

Igliozzi would not explicitly say whether he would prefer Mastroianni to be the city clerk.

“It’s not about who I prefer, because it’s about the three female employees,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if I prefer X or Y. It matters that these three female employees had the courage to come forward to talk about how they’re being treated in that office.”

Selleck said he currently has no plans to resign, and intends to take the stand in his own defense at the removal hearing. His attorney asked for a long list of witnesses to be subpoenaed, including Matos and other former council staffers.

While the council voted to subpoena 19 witnesses, including many on Selleck’s list, they opted not to include Matos or the former council staffers. The discussion over who to subpoena took place in a closed session.

The council also voted to instruct the city solicitor to release a list of materials to Selleck, including the Iafrate report and underlying materials, the full HR report, and all text messages, emails or communications regarding Selleck between any two or more of the following people: Igliozzi, Councilman Michael Correia, council chief of staff Jim Lombardi, Iafrate, Mastroianni, Harris, and Petronio.

“To say that tonight’s council meeting was a kangaroo court would be an insult to kangaroos and to real courts dedicated to openness, transparency and the rule of law,” Selleck said after the meeting.

Selleck’s attorney, Peter Skwirz, said the council approved “pre-packaged” witnesses and evidence provided by City Solicitor Jeff Dana.

“Despite the pre-determined outcome, Mr. Selleck continues to believe that public information is public, and should be used to aid council members in making thoughtful decisions for the people of Providence,” Skwirz said. “He will continue to resist the council president’s politically motivated effort to have him removed.”

Asked why the council didn’t approve all of Selleck’s requested witnesses, Igliozzi deferred to Dana.

Dana called the witness list “extremely extensive,” and noted that this is not a criminal trial, but a legislative body holding a hearing. He said people who are not subpoenaed could potentially still be witnesses if the council chooses to invite them.

The 19 witnesses that will be compelled to testify are the three deputies, Mastroianni, Petronio and Harris; council staffers Marylee Dixon, Olga Coloian, Yvonne Graf, Sean Bouchard and Kyle Delgado; clerk’s office staffers Jesenia Fajardo, Jennifer Emidy, Lauren Gutierrez, Yuly Polanco, Becca Mitchell, Donna Peligian and Marsha Cotugno; city archivist Caleb Horton; HR director Emmanuel Echevarria; internal auditor Gina Costa; and Iafrate.

The only person who was interviewed for the Iafrate report but not included on the witness list is Councilman Michael Correia.

The procedure for the hearing will include rounds of questioning where Selleck’s attorney, the council’s hired prosecutor and the council members will each get 10 minutes to ask questions of the witnesses, starting with Iafrate, Echevarria, Mastroianni, Harris and Petronio.

A two-thirds majority vote of councilors is required to remove the clerk.

“My extremely intelligent, independent, strong-willed and energized council members will make whatever appropriate decision they decide is correct after they hear this matter,” Igliozzi said.

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter covering Providence, politics and more for 12 News. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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