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Providence City Council will seek to remove city clerk

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Providence City Council plans to formally consider the removal of City Clerk Shawn Selleck, following an investigation commissioned by council leaders that determined he violated the city’s Code of Conduct.

The council plans to vote on a resolution to bring charges against Selleck under the City Charter next Thursday, according to a news release. If the resolution passes, a public hearing would take place at a later date. Under the charter, a two-thirds vote of council members is required to remove the clerk.

The effort to remove Selleck follows months of tension between Selleck and City Council President John Igliozzi; Selleck has accused Igliozzi of trying to remove him for political reasons.

Selleck was placed on leave by human resources in June following complaints from multiple deputy clerks, but was reinstated after an investigation found their allegations of a hostile work environment to be “unsubstantiated.”

In response, the City Council chief of staff hired outside attorney Carly Iafrate, who conducted a separate investigation. Target 12 obtained a copy of Iafrate’s final report, submitted Sept. 21, which determined Selleck violated the city’s anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies and created a hostile work environment.

The report details a series of complaints by both City Council employees and Selleck’s deputy clerks, accusing him of micromanaging, being argumentative, and berating his staff to the point of causing them emotional distress.

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.

According to Iafrate, Mastroianni said she was not yelled at or sworn at by Selleck, who is her supervisor, but that he “dominated her space” when she was trying to work, and would talk at length when she repeatedly asked him to leave her alone. She told Iafrate the encounters made her feel uncomfortable.

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 was elevated to acting clerk during the brief time Selleck was on leave.

Both reports describe an altercation with another one of Selleck’s deputy clerks, Angela Harris, who said Selleck physically held a door shut while trying to discuss her job duties at the end of the work day.

“‘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.”

Another deputy, Sheri Petronio, said Selleck is “the most incompetent, self-absorbed, arrogant person I have ever worked for.”

Two other employees in the clerk’s office took different views of the situation. Donna Peligian, a stenographer, said while Selleck could be a tough boss and “long-winded” at times, she believes he has good intentions.

“I think he truly wants to turn the office around and make it a good place to work,” Peligian said.

Marsha Cotugno, a secretary in the clerk’s office, also said she has not had any issues with Selleck, according to the report, though she said his management style could “leave something to be desired.” She characterized the situation as a “power play” because Mastroianni, a longtime employee in the office, wanted to be city clerk.

Several council employees who do not work in the clerk’s office also described conversations or arguments with Selleck that they deemed unprofessional. Internal Auditor Gina Costa described Selleck as having a “relentless, annoying personality.” Olga Coloian, a scheduler, said Selleck confronted her about an invoice during office renovations and refused to leave her workspace.

Iafrate said the behavior violated city policies, and said the way the employees felt was most important.

“In other words, whether or not Selleck intended to intimidate or harass the employees involved is irrelevant,” Iafrate wrote in the report. She did not find any evidence of sexual harassment. (All of Selleck’s employees are women.)

Iafrate did not interview Council President John Igliozzi or chief of staff Jim Lombardi during the investigation. Former chief of staff Erlin Rogel declined to be interviewed, according to Iafrate.

Selleck was was not interviewed for Iafrate’s report because he was not permitted to bring an attorney, but submitted a written statement for her investigation.

In an email Friday, Selleck pledged to defend himself against the allegations.

“When I came to work for the City of Providence, my mission was to make the City Clerk’s office work for all of the people of Providence and all of the members of the Providence City Council, not for insiders and the select few,” Selleck said. “As my time here has proceeded, it has become clear that the open flow of information that would best serve the public interest is not being allowed to take place.”

“I look forward to the opportunity to discuss this in public at great length and to defend myself against the politically motivated and inaccurate report that was leaked by political actors earlier this week,” he said. “I will continue to champion transparency of public information to the people of Providence.”

In the statement, Selleck also said the situation began to “shift dramatically” when Igliozzi took the helm of the council in April, following the resignation of Sabina Matos, who had been appointed Rhode Island lieutenant governor.

Referring to Mastroianni, Selleck wrote, “I believe that Igliozzi saw an opportunity to exploit the tension between us and place someone who was politically loyal to him at the head of the City Clerk’s office.”

Igliozzi did not return a phone call Friday. Since the clerk was elected to a four-year term by the council in 2019, Igliozzi cannot replace Selleck on his own.

The conflict between Mastroianni and Selleck includes a difference of opinion over whether or not they must answer to City Council leadership, as opposed to acting as a independent department. The city clerk is the keeper of the city seal, archives and documents, and is responsible for running City Council meetings, taking the roll and keeping minutes.

On Friday, Selleck himself was sent the resolution bringing charges against him in order to have it formally placed on the council agenda, since that is one of the duties of the city clerk. (The deputy clerks were temporarily transferred out of the office amid the investigation.)

Yvonne Graf, the council’s senior deputy chief of staff, said Iafrate has been paid $15,000 so far for her investigation, with another invoice of $2,000 to $3,000 expected.

Reached by phone, Iafrate declined to answer questions about her investigation, citing the possibly that she could be called as a witness in the case.

Emmanuel Echevarria, the human resources director, was also interviewed for Iafrate’s report. He said he initially placed Selleck on leave following a conversation with Lombardi, the council chief of staff, who said there were allegations of a hostile work environment.

Echevarria said he had previously been aware of “interpersonal disagreements” in the office, which had been discussed with Selleck but had not risen to the point of an investigation. After the HR investigation concluded, Echevarria recommended Selleck undergo sensitivity and communication training.

The controversy with Selleck has also landed in court.

After being reinstated by HR in August, Selleck said council leaders were still not allowing him to actually do his duties under the City Charter, causing him to file suit. A Supreme Court justice ordered he be fully reinstated to his job pending the outcome of the case.

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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