PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Providence City Clerk Shawn Selleck has resigned from his position amid allegations of harassment and bullying, ahead of a removal hearing that was slated to take place this week.
Selleck, who has been the city clerk since 2019, was accused by three deputy clerks of aggressive and confrontational behavior. He was initially cleared by the city’s human resources department, but the City Council commissioned a separate investigation that found he violated several city policies, prompting the council to initiate removal proceedings.
Selleck called the process political, accusing Council President John Igliozzi of seeking to oust him in favor of a clerk that would “further his political interests.”
Igliozzi — who called the report “horrific” — had declined to discuss any of the details of the accusations until the public hearing, the city’s version of an impeachment trial, planned for later this week.
In a resignation letter to the City Council Monday morning, Selleck continued to insist the removal process was political.
“The upcoming hearing is not designed to be a fair trial with witnesses called and examined by both sides, but rather a concocted political theatre with ad hoc rules set by the council president himself,” Selleck wrote. “It makes a mockery of due process and of our city and I cannot imagine that I would be able to serve effectively as city clerk after its conclusion. Given these untenable political circumstances, I have decided to resign the position of city clerk.”
Selleck’s resignation goes into effect immediately, but he’ll remain on the city payroll until Jan. 3, 2022, according to a copy of his separation agreement. City officials also agreed not to provide details of the circumstances of Selleck’s resignation to future employers who contact the city. (There is otherwise no non-disclosure agreement.)
Selleck also agreed to drop his lawsuit before the R.I. Supreme Court, though he reserved the right to make a claim for the city to pay his legal costs. He admits no wrongdoing in resigning, according to the agreement.
The trial would have been the first-ever removal proceeding of an appointed official under the Providence City Charter. The council had subpoenaed 19 potential witnesses including council staffers and Selleck’s employees, and hired a prosecutor. It also would have been the first time the public would hear from Selleck’s accusers.
“With the resignation of Mr. Selleck, effective immediately, the three female deputy clerks will not have to re-live their experiences in a public hearing,” Igliozzi said in a statement. “While Mr. Selleck and his attorney attempted to mislead the public with a false narrative at the expense of these women and their experiences, the City Council chose to believe the women.”
The three clerks — Tina Mastroianni, Angela Harris and Sheri Petronio — had told outside attorney Carly Iafrate that Selleck was confrontational, aggressive and harassed them at work. In one of the most serious allegations in the report, Harris claimed he held a door closed when she was trying to leave work. Selleck denied the accusation.
Mayor Jorge Elorza, who has no direct authority over the clerk’s office, has never taken a side in the months-long controversy.
“The trial in the City Council was supposed to smoke out all the facts,” Elorza told 12 News on Monday. “We, I guess, apparently are not going to have that trial. Both sides, the council and the employee believe the best resolution was to separate. So it is what it is.”
In an interview Monday afternoon Igliozzi said there were no immediate plans for the council to vote on a new city clerk. He said the three deputy clerks — who had been temporarily transferred out of the clerk’s office — would have the opportunity to return and run the office.
“This has been traumatic for them,” Igliozzi said. “I need to make sure they’re comfortable to go back.”
He suggested the formal selection of a new city clerk could potentially wait until the next council term. (Igliozzi and several other councilors are term-limited and can’t run for re-election next fall.)
“These women should be commended,” he added. “They had to go through the ringer to tell their stories, their experience of what it was like to work under Mr. Selleck’s management style.”
Igliozzi also suggested the process of removing an appointed official under the City Charter may need to be changed, citing the “cumbersome” process and the fact that the accusers would have had to testify publicly about their experiences.
“That becomes a chilling effect,” Igliozzi said. “There needs to be a better way to do this.”
The city charter’s once-per-decade review is set to take place next year.
Selleck had cited the charter in his complaint before the R.I. Supreme Court, pointing out that only the full council — not Igliozzi individually — had the power to remove him from office. A judge ordered Selleck be restored to his full duties in August.
“The Charter recognizes the need for autonomy — and the Rhode Island Supreme Court, in ruling against recent actions to remove me or interfere with the office, agreed,” Selleck wrote in his resignation letter. “With an independent city clerk out of the way, the City Council is now in even greater danger of making decisions based on information deliberately manipulated by the council president.”