PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A Rhode Island Supreme Court justice has ordered the city of Providence to restore City Clerk Shawn Selleck to his full duties pending the outcome of a complaint he filed earlier this week.
Justice Melissa Long issued the preliminary order during a court conference Friday morning, city solicitor Jeff Dana confirmed.
Selleck had filed suit earlier this week, shortly after he was reinstated following a human resources investigation that “found no reason to further continue your suspension,” according to a letter to Selleck. He had been placed on administrative leave on June 28 pending the investigation.
But Selleck claimed the council’s chief of staff, Jim Lombardi, subsequently told him he would not be allowed to act as city clerk upon return, including accessing and running the clerk’s office and staffing City Council meetings.
Selleck claimed the actions are “politically motivated,” accusing Council President John Igliozzi of wanting to appoint Tina Mastroianni as clerk after he took over as president this spring, despite the fact that the City Council elected Selleck to a four-year term in 2019. (Igliozzi became president following the resignation of former Council President Sabina Matos.)
Mastroianni, the first deputy clerk, has been serving as acting clerk since Selleck was first placed on leave. She is the named defendant in Selleck’s court claim, which asks the Supreme Court to restore him to his job under the city charter.
The clerk is a top city official, responsible for maintaining records of open meetings, staffing meetings of the City Council and various other boards, and serving as the keeper of the city seal, public documents and the city archives.
“I am glad to be able to return to serving the people of Providence as City Clerk,” Selleck wrote in an email to Target 12. “As I understand it, the Providence City Charter provides City Council appointees independence from political influence in order to serve the best interests of the people of Providence and the full City Council without favor. This injunction appears to support my interpretation of the charter.”
Igliozzi and Lombardi have declined to comment on the situation or disclose what led to the original HR investigation. But the council has now launched its own probe, hiring attorney Carly Iafrate to conduct an independent review of the matter.
Iafrate will be paid $225 an hour, up to $15,000 total, according to a memo from Lombardi to the Board of Contract and Supply.
In the city’s response to Selleck’s lawsuit, Dana said the City Council was not removing Selleck from his job, but “expanding” his duties to include “innovation-based supports to all council departments.”
But Selleck said he was being barred from his staff, his office and his duties as outlined in the Providence Home Rule Charter, and argued that removing him would require a vote of the entire City Council, not just a decision by the chief of staff.
Dana also asked for the judge to hold off on ruling until the council’s independent review could be conducted. But Justice Long ruled in favor of Selleck, requiring that he be restored as city clerk without the restrictions Lombardi had placed on him, according to Selleck’s attorney Peter Skwirz.
A written order from Long was not immediately available. The full Supreme Court is expected to consider the case in September.