Personnel Board will decide Vallee's fate
Personnel Board will decide Vallee's fate
NORTH PROVIDENCE - The North Providence Personnel Board will hear a town resident's request to reconsider Mayor Charles Lombardi's decision not to fire embattled controller Maria Vallee.
Brian Quirk, a frequent critic of Lombardi and Vallee, is claiming that the mayor is ignoring town charter rules Quirk believes "require her dismissal from employment with the town."
This is not about trying to get Vallee fired, said Quirk, but rather to question why she hasn't been fired. His petition "forces officials to take a position on something that they didn't have to take a position on before."
Said Quirk, "this will be an unprecedented decision."
The Personnel Board met last Wednesday and chose to put the matter off to next Tuesday, Sept. 10. Vallee has the right to choose between an open and closed meeting, according to town officials, and will likely choose a closed meeting.
"I understand that no one wants the responsibility of removing an employee from a job," Quirk told The Breeze. "But this board is responsible for upholding the charter and imposing whatever penalty the charter sets as a result of an employee's actions."
Quirk based his petition seeking a hearing on why Vallee wasn't fired on Vallee's admissions that she violated federal law and state ethics law. In doing so, Vallee admitted she obtained money under false pretenses while under contract with the town, he said.
Vallee violated multiple sections of the charter, most notably section 24-1-5 on "contractual relations," said Quirk, which prohibits an employee from contracting with the town and receiving a commission, discount, bonus, gift, contribution or award. If an employee is found to have violated the rules, there are several actions to be considered, according to the charter rules:
* The appointing authority (Lombardi) shall remove the violator from the position and recommend to the town solicitor to take appropriate legal action.
* In the event the appointing authority fails to remove the employee, a town resident may petition to have them removed, as Quirk did.
* The Town Council shall direct the town solicitor to take whatever action is necessary to recover any loss or damages suffered by the town.
Lombardi told The Breeze he will let Quirk's complaint "run its course" as he would with "any resident." He does question Quirk's "political motives," said the mayor, but the complainant is still entitled to have his case heard by the "Personnel Board and legal community."
"I made my decision (on Vallee) and my decision was made solely based on advice and money, not wanting an unnecessary expenditure of taxpayer dollars," he said. "It was not an easy decision for me, and again, the best political thing was for me to fire her."
Lombardi said he will "respect whatever the Personnel Board's decision is." If he was a "career politician," said the mayor, he would have fired Vallee.
In August, the Rhode Island Ethics Commission fined Vallee $8,000 for improperly receiving $48,000 in illegal federal loans. Vallee agreed to the fine and acknowledged that she violated state laws, according to Jason Gramitt, staff attorney for the commission.
The $8,000 fine against Vallee was decided on based on the "totality of the circumstances," including the willfulness of Vallee's conduct and the size of the civil penalty paid in a federal case against her.
Lombardi subsequently decided to keep Vallee as the town's controller, despite the decision by the Rhode Island Ethics Commission. The mayor said his hands were tied, emphasizing that if federal officials had treated Vallee and her unlawful loans as a criminal matter, instead of a civil one, "it would have made my job a lot easier," instead of setting him up for "a fight we probably wouldn't win."
The CDBG loan program is a Housing and Urban Development program administered by various municipalities across Rhode Island to provide low-interest loans to low-income and moderate-income families and the elderly to make necessary repairs to existing housing.
According to an earlier complaint, announced by U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha and Cary Rubenstein, special agent in charge of the Northeast Region of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General, between April and July 2008, Vallee applied for and received a total of $47,895 in HUD CDBG loans, even though she was aware that her and her husband's combined salaries of $125,000 exceeded maximum salary guidelines. The maximum aggregate family income for a family applying for a home repair loan from the CDBG program was $58,550.
Vallee removed herself from the appointed interim finance director position and returned to the union controller position in June of 2011, hours before the Rhode Island Ethics Commission found probable cause for numerous ethical and statutory violations.