Providence City Council votes to start removal proceedings against city clerk

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Providence City Council on Thursday night voted to bring a series of administrative charges against City Clerk Shawn Selleck, setting up a process that could ultimately end with his removal.

Among the accusations are claims that Selleck harassed and bullied colleagues and created a toxic work environment.

There was no discussion among the council members prior to the unanimous voice vote on the charges.

Selleck was clerking the meeting up until moments before the vote, but got up from the dais and left before the council took up the item. A stenographer from the clerk’s office, Jennifer Emidy, served as clerk during the vote against Selleck. (Selleck’s three deputies, who would typically fill in, have been transferred out of the office amid the allegations.)

Thursday’s vote will set up a public hearing after at least a 30-day waiting period. The council must have a two-thirds majority vote to remove the clerk, according to the City Charter.

The effort to formally remove Selleck was initiated after an outside attorney hired by the council, Carly Iafrate, issued a report detailing a series of accusations of bullying and poor management style from Selleck’s subordinates and several others.

The Iafrate report was commissioned by council leaders after human resources had already investigated the claims and reinstated Selleck to his job.

“Tonight’s political vote by the council is just the latest in the ongoing controversy about whether the clerk’s office works for the people of Providence, or the council president personally,” Selleck said in a statement Thursday night. “I look forward to engaging in the process. It will confirm the findings of the city’s human resources department that questions about my performance are groundless, and will confirm that the political ‘report’ commissioned by the council president is designed to smear me in order to advance his political goal of ending open government in Providence by making all information flow through him.”

The report, which has been obtained by Target 12 but not released publicly by the council, includes an allegation that Selleck held a door closed when deputy clerk Angela Harris was trying to end a discussion and 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.”

Tina Mastroianni, the first deputy clerk, said she was working in a “hostile, harassing and bullying work environment,” and it was affecting her mental health, according to the report.

Mastroianni filled in for Selleck as acting clerk when he was placed on leave by HR after the summer, and council leaders initially kept her in place after Selleck was brought back to City Hall.

Selleck filed suit, claiming the council was not allowing him to do his job as described in the City Charter, and a judge ordered that he be restored to his full duties. Selleck was elected to a four-year term by the council in 2019, and can only be removed by a two-thirds vote of the council following a public hearing.

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.

Iafrate’s report is partly at odds with the earlier city HR report, which did not find that Selleck created a hostile work environment or met the threshold of harassment. But the HR report did find that the clerk’s office was “toxic,” stemming from “years of gossiping and infighting for positions of authority.”

The HR report also said Selleck is perceived to be a “difficult” and “obsessive” manager, and that employees interviewed during the investigation believe Mastroianni “is attempting to oust Selleck from his position for her own gain.”

Mastroianni has previously declined to comment.

Chris Hunter, an outside public relations professional hired by the council, said in an emailed statement after the vote that the council would pursue a termination hearing. A date has not yet been set.

“The independent investigation by respected employment and labor attorney Carly Iafrate determined that Mr. Selleck violated the City’s Code of Conduct, Anti-Bullying, Anti-Harassment, and Workforce Violence policies through a pattern of bullying, confrontational, and intimidating behavior which created a toxic work environment within the city clerk’s office,” Hunter said. “Pursuant to Section 403, the City Council will submit the charges to the mayor, and following a 30-day period, will order a public hearing on the charges against Mr. Selleck.”

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook

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