Mayor ignores council attorney’s $1,245 opinion on safety director

Mayor ignores council attorney’s $1,245 opinion on safety director

PAWTUCKET – Mayor Donald Grebien is still moving forward with plans to appoint a new director of public safety for the city, despite the City Council getting an opinion from its attorney that the council can say no to the position.

Grebien said he expects to choose from three finalists for the position by the end of the month.

Joel Votolato, the council’s new attorney, said in a May opinion on the controversial appointment that he agrees with City Solicitor Frank Milos that Grebien has the authority to appoint a director of public safety, but that’s where the agreement with Milos ends on the mayor’s right to appoint a safety director.

It’s the council that sets salaries for employees, said Votolato, and since the appointment of a director would constitute establishment of “a previously non-existing salaried position,” the Personnel Board makes a preliminary, nonbinding recommendation to the council on an “appropriate salary.”

The Breeze obtained documentation showing that Votolato was paid $1,245 to come up with his recommendation to the council.

A breakdown of the bill shows Votolato charged:

• $150 (his hourly rate) for a meeting with the council’s fiscal analyst Alan Tavares on the history of the public safety director position and specifics on the city charter.

• $600 to conduct legal research on the charter and municipal corporation.

• $300 for drafting an opinion letter to the council.

• $75 for reviewing and revising the opinion letter based on input from council members.

• And $120 for reviewing suggested edits from Tavares, revising the opinion letter to reflect those suggestions, and meeting with Council President David Moran to finalize the opinion letter to the council.

Moran said he had no problem paying Votolato for his work.

“I felt it was both reasonable and valuable for the council as we sought a second legal opinion to review the city solicitor’s and the result differed from his,” he said. “It concluded the City Council has the sole authority to fund the public safety position, and this legislative body rejected funding it during the budget process.

“As far as what we do and how we apply the opinion going forward, we will cross that bridge when we come to it,” added Moran.

The council appointed Votolato and sought a second opinion from him after Milos said the mayor has the right to appoint the director and the council has an obligation to fund it.

Votolato wrote that he is of the opinion that the City Council is under no obligation to set a salary for the public safety director position, “and that this in no way impedes the mayor’s authority to appoint the person of his choosing to the post.”

Moran said his key takeaway from Votolato’s opinion is that the mayor can request the position of a public safety director but “it ultimately comes down to the City Council deciding whether it will be funded or not. If the council decides not to fund it, the position will not exist.”

Dylan Zelazo, spokesman for Grebien, issued a statement Monday on the council having Votolato issue an opinion in the matter.

“Council President Moran has made it clear that he is opposed to hiring a public safety director, and in this opinion he got exactly what he made the taxpayers pay for. It’s important to reflect back; when the voters approved the amendment to allow for outside legal counsel it was for situations ‘deemed necessary,’ he said.

“Is this really what the residents and taxpayers had in mind when they voted in favor of this?” asked Zelazo.

The council ignored the city charter and the city solicitor’s opinion, hired Votolato from a law firm, Gannon, Bailey, Donovan & Votolato, that is suing the city, and used a political adviser to “influence the attorney’s opinion, wasting $1,245 in the process,” said Zelazo.

“Taxpayers want to see their dollars at work, and that is what the Grebien administration will continue to do,” he said.

Grebien and the majority on the council differ sharply on whether a new public safety director is needed. Grebien says the increasingly complex world of public safety needs someone to oversee police, fire and emergency operations.

The original proposal for a safety director, at a cost of more than $100,000, came about as a response to a string of shootings in the city.

The appointment of Votolato as the council’s attorney has been a particularly contentious topic, with Grebien and three council members questioning the appointment given the attorney’s business ties to Municipal Court Judge Jack Gannon. Votolato is representing Gannon’s son, Sean Gannon, in multiple lawsuits against the city for his 2013 firing as a probationary city firefighter.


It seems to me that the money for a public safety director would be better spent on more officers on the streets rather than yet another appointed bureaucrat in this administration. Let the police and fire chiefs do their jobs. Too may chiefs and not enough indians, as the old saying goes.

The money would absolutely be better spent on more officers or body cameras, or bringing back the SWAT team.

Certainly,the money used for pay raises for Mr. Zelazo and other administration officials could have also been used for the above projects.

If I were this group, I wouldn't be talking about lawyer fees when it's a sure bet that outside lawyer fees for the Red Sox stuff is already north of $100K. Did the voters expect that?

They can't pay this person until the Pay Plan is amended, pure and simple.

The voters overwhelmingly approved the Charter amendment, and all the spin in the world doesn't change that fact.

Kudos to the City Council. Stand tough!

I am glad that the city council invested 1200 bucks to determine this! The mayor is creating a position that no one thinks is necessary. We need more street workers, not another Grebien ally pushing paper.

Same old song and dance my friend. The law dept has rubber stamped another of the administration's policies that clearly violates the city's charter. According to the charter in order to raise the pay from it's current level listed in the city pay plan ($37,500?) to the new salary the Mayor wants has to be done in a few steps. First the personnel board must approve the increase to the new salary, then the Finance Director ( and only the Finance director not the Director of Administration) must bring it before the city council for approval, The same process also goes for the support jobs the Mayor has also added.In the article Mr Zelazo claims the city has a valid legal opinion from the law dept , which is true however that's all it is an opinion not a legal fact. Who knows maybe if the city council had it's own lawyer back when he was hired in a questionable way that was buttressed by an opinion from this same law dept. he might not even be here now to issue any statements??