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Providence City Clerk loses deputies amid ongoing battle with council president

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Providence City Council President John Igliozzi has transferred all of the city’s deputy clerks out of City Clerk Shawn Selleck’s office, weeks after the R.I. Supreme Court ordered the city to restore Selleck to his full duties.

In a letter sent to Selleck on Monday, Igliozzi said all three of the city’s deputy clerks — Tina Mastroianni, Sheri Petronio and Angela Harris — would be temporarily transferred out of the clerk’s office, which is run by Selleck.

“As you know, an investigation is underway by Carly Iafrate, Esq. concerning your actions, as related
to the unresolved allegations of a toxic work environment and inappropriate management style in
the City Clerk’s office,” Igliozzi told Selleck. “Until the investigation is concluded and resolved, I have granted these requests for accommodation of temporary transfer.”

It was not immediately clear what new jobs the three deputy clerks are performing.

The move is the latest development in a months-long dispute over Selleck’s job that has had City Hall abuzz and is now pending before the state’s highest court.

Selleck said he was not given advance notice of the clerks’ transfer, and learned of it when a police officer accompanied the three women to gather their belongings from the clerk’s office Monday morning.

Selleck had been placed on leave in June pending the results of an unspecified human resources investigation, and was brought back to City Hall on Aug. 3.

But despite the conclusion of the HR probe, Selleck said City Council leaders were not allowing him to resume his usual duties as laid out in the city charter. Mastroianni was conducting the clerk’s duties instead.

Selleck called the move “politically motivated” and filed suit, claiming Igliozzi was just trying to install a clerk of his choosing after he was elected council president in April. He also questioned whether Igliozzi and chief of staff Jim Lombardi had the power to remove him from his duties, since the city charter indicates he can only be removed by a two-thirds vote of the council, following a public hearing.

Selleck had originally been elected by the full council to a four-year term in 2019, under former Council President Sabina Matos.

R.I. Supreme Court Justice Melissa Long on Aug. 6 ordered the city restore Selleck to his full duties running the clerk’s office, pending the outcome of the case. He appeared on the podium to clerk a City Council meeting several days later.

The council, meanwhile, hired attorney Carly Iafrate at a rate of $225 per hour to conduct a second review of the matter.

Mastroianni, Petronio and Harris could not immediately be reached for comment Monday. Emails sent to all three resulted in identical automatic replies that read, “I am temporarily re-assigned to another department,” with a message to contact Selleck for any needs in the clerk’s office.

In a statement through an outside public relations firm, Igliozzi said he took action to protect the clerks.

“Three female employees recently approached me with continued serious allegations about the work environment in the City Clerk’s office and asked to be temporarily reassigned to another department,” Igliozzi said. “To protect these workers and the work environment, I have accommodated their request to be temporarily reassigned until this matter is fully investigated and resolved.”

He did not respond to questions about what jobs the clerks would now be doing. He has previously declined to provide specifics about the allegations.

But he did shed some light on the claims in two memos sent to fellow council members and obtained by Target 12. Igliozzi said the allegations from the three deputies include “condescending and dismissive behavior,” and an “inappropriate management style.”

“We cannot ignore repeated and documented requests for help and accommodation by members of our staff,” Igliozzi said in one of the memos. “While the issues in the City Clerk’s office are long-standing and preceded my time as Council President, I have been acting to ensure that the complaints are properly addressed, investigated, and rectified in a manner that protects the health, safety, and well-being of all individuals in the City Clerk’s Office.”

Selleck said he has never been sat down to discuss any specific allegations.

“I would genuinely be open to those discussions,” Selleck told Target 12. “No one has ever given me the benefit of addressing whatever the complaints are.”

Five employees — three stenographers and two assistants, all women — remain in the clerk’s office under Selleck.

Monday’s actions mean Selleck is currently operating without any deputies. The Providence City Council has been on recess for most of August, but is scheduled to return on Thursday night. Selleck said he clerked a meeting of the Board of Contract and Supply on Monday that normally would’ve been handled by a deputy.

“I can do my job without any deputies, it’s just a lot more work for me to do,” he said.

Igliozzi’s letter to council members says resources will be made available to Selleck.

Selleck’s attorney Peter Skwirz sent a letter Monday to the city solicitor’s office questioning Igliozzi’s actions.

“When the Council President purported to temporarily transfer the deputy clerks out of the City Clerk’s office without even consulting the City Clerk, he seems to be usurping this authority assigned to the City Clerk by Charter,” Skwirz wrote. “The preliminary order entered in the Supreme Court was entered to prevent both the Council President and Council Chief of Staff from unilaterally stripping the Clerk of such Charter assigned authority.”

Skwirz also said it appears Selleck cannot hire anyone to replace the clerks, since their transfer is only temporary, and it’s unclear whether they are still drawing their salaries from the clerk’s office or some other department.

“Because of this lack of clarity, the Clerk’s office appears to be facing a staffing shortage for the foreseeable future,” Skwirz said. “The Council President doesn’t have the authority to force the Clerk’s office to operate short-staffed while that investigation carries on indefinitely.”

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. 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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