NORTH SMITHFIELD – Members of the North Smithfield Town Council voted unanimously on Monday, Nov. 14 to hire an independent party to investigate legal complaints against Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski by his former administrative assistant.
William O’Gara of Johnston-based Pannone Lopes Devereaux & O’Gara LLC will investigate what led to discrimination charges filed by Donna Rovedo, who currently serves as the town of North Smithfield’s deputy tax assessor.
The vote came following a closed session meeting that included both the current and incoming council members. Former Councilor Douglas Osier and former Town Administrator Paulette Hamilton won’t officially join the board until they take the oath of office in December.
Rovedo, who worked directly with Zwolenski from December of 2020 until she took another role working in the assessment office last March, filed a suit in U.S. District Court last month alleging employment discrimination as a result of what she says was inappropriate conduct by the town leader. She is seeking compensation for damages as a result of violation of the Rhode Island Fair Employment Practices Act, the Rhode Island Civil Rights Act and Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
At focus for many in town have been questions regarding councilors’ knowledge of the allegations and concerns about Zwolenski working in the same building as his accuser as the legal process plays out. Interviewed separately and without notice this week, two councilors told NRI NOW that they first learned about the complaint filed with the Human Rights Commission in May at a closed session meeting in August.
“The trust attorney did not notify us until our August meeting,” said Town Council President John Beauregard. “I guess they were hoping to be able to just take care of it. He waited to advise the council.”
NRI NOW broke the story of the complaint last month after learning of the lawsuit, which was filed on Tuesday, Oct. 11.
“We were learning of the alleged details at that point,” Beauregard said.
Asked when she was made aware of the allegations, Council Vice President Kimberly Alves responded, “I think it was August in an executive session that we heard about it.”
Beauregard also addressed questions regarding calls for Zwolenski’s dismissal, noting that the attorney from RI Local Trust who is handling the case advised councilors not to take any action. Town Solicitor David Igliozzi also advised the board that it is not within their purview to dismiss the administrator, Beauregard said.
He noted that the independent investigation authorized this week is a routine requirement in such instances, as the town does not have an official human resource department.
“Then we would take the next step if there is one,” Beauregard said.
Alves also pointed to the action as the council’s first step to address the issue.
“We’re doing the investigation to see what transpired,” she said.
Beauregard said that Monday’s meeting went on longer than expected as, “The lawyer from the trust was very, very thorough.”
He said that while the full cost of hiring O’Gara is not yet known, initial figures were, “less than expected.”
Beauregard said he has heard nothing regarding the an assertion in other local media made by Providence-based Attorney David Cass that, “at least one other person who had complaints about the top town executive’s behavior.” A report cited the claim in a headline while sharing no further details regarding the statement. Alves said she also is unaware of any additional complaints against the administrator.
Reached this week, Cass told NRI NOW that, “there have been indications that there’s someone that has complaints about the administrator,” but that he does not know of any other legal action that has been filed.
The attorney noted he is unable to discuss further details of Rovedo’s case, with the ongoing negotiations also leaving Zwolenski silent on the matter on advisement from legal counsel. The administrator has stated only that the trust is handling the case.
I find it bad business/ineptitude, to have a trust attorney not inform the town council until 3 months after a complaint, May to August, and then the lawsuit being filed on October 11, 2022. Why the long wait other than to think it would not come to fruition? You always inform the town council of all actions that the town may be facing, in a prompt manner….so no one is taken by surprise and they are on top of all things business-wise. Ethics. Professionalism. Protection.
Yes, play out the process, innocent until proven guilty, but you still protect the parties involved, that’s just common sense and good business ethics and due diligence by town leaders. You want your town folk to believe in you, acting always in the best interests of the town as a whole. No latent surprises.
And as for a separate investigator looking into the matters, that is the proper and professional thing to do, so no stone is left unturned, and no improprieties occur. Yes, it can be expensive.
So now we wait and see what proceeds; protect both parties from being in close proximity of each other, hope no further harassment is lodged against the TA during this investigation, and where no others felt a need for silence if they endured any possible alleged harassment themselves.
To have done nothing, in such a severe situation, all this time, brings up questions of improper legal counsel IMHO. I would look to a possible future change in that reperesentation.
I guess in the liberal leftist perspective of things in America you are now guilty until proven innocent. You are tried in the court of public opinion by people that don’t have all the facts but only one side of the story. The people commenting on stuff they know nothing about should be ashamed of themselves. This could be you or your family be accused would you feel the same way would you want people lashing out at you without knowing the whole story. Let our elected officials do there job thats what we elected them to do.
It’s a slap in the face to have the accuser continue to work, let her take the paid admin leave instead. How did the solicitor and lawyer not press for admin leave while this gets sorted out? Just another bad mark for Beauregard not standing up for civil rights, granted it follows his pattern of doing the wrong thing. Mr “Gets things done” more like “Gets Things Wrong”. He can’t even seem to understand why gas prices are so high currently and blaming the wrong person in the process. Wish I could comment on his post and explain why he’s wrong, but I can’t even get a simple email from him or Corriveau.
Has anyone ever heard of accusations like this and neither of the people involved been placed on administrative leave? Absolutely ridiculous of a clowncil president.
Bryan, I really love how I bother you so much by simply existing. You are even trolling my personal page? If you want to comment on my page so bad I suggest you friend request me. I do find your behavior over the past few weeks with the things you posted to be unbecoming and as a member of the Air Guard (or whatever branch you are in) an embarrassment to the uniform you wear. I wonder if your superior officers would agree with me if they were to see some of the screen shots? I worked with a lot of members of the guard and I have never seen any of them behave in such a nasty and juvenile manner. Your responsibility to represent does not end when you take off the uniform. Trust me, you are taking your cues from the wrong person.
Typical basement dwelling troll. Your a demented recluse looking for attention on local pages. Yet you aren’t involved in anything meaningful in town nor show your face at any meetings or local events. I get it You’re lonely and in need of attention. Stop being a disgrace to the “uniform”. If you want to soapbox at least show up. If you can’t even do that then stop being a 13-year-old on social media.
Standing up for what is right and calling out toxic behavior goes against the uniform I guess now. Disgrace to the uniform, after veterans day, come on buddy that ain’t right, more disrespect and harassment from an elected leader/pit bull to a veteran…
And once again typical no answer you.
You’re a joke bro. Now you’re the victim???? 3:41am. Stay in bed. You need help. You’re unhinged.
Sorry that I wake up early to help defend the country. Guess because of the clowncil president and his pit-bulls, I need to stay in bed and let the bad people win.
BM – there are 5 people on the council yet you continue to single only two out. Your rants and rambles about supposed emails that have gone unanswered are becoming tiring. The council as a whole was briefed in August; including the VP. How come you aren’t holding her in the same standard of accountability?? Has anyone on the council replied to your ramble ?? Thanks what you for your our country – in all seriousness. But your rants and rambles about how everything in your life that’s wrong is John’s fault needs to stop. It’s exhausting.
There are 5, but only 1 president. That means it’s their council and whatever bad or good happens, falls on them.
If the email gets answered, I’ll stop, plain and simple but they’re playing games with it and I’m calling them out on it.
Two individuals were briefed in May, then the entire council in August. Should the administrator have been on admin leave during that time? Yes. Should this have been handled earlier? Yes. Should this have been over with by now? Yes. The VP was the one who reached out to the harassed, yet others did not or she did not feel safe in talking with them. So she did her part, could she have pressed for more? Probably. Did Beauregard possibly silence anything dealing with the issue? Possibly. Once again, he was in charge, falls on him for his inaction.
As you saw earlier in this thread, he responded but never answered. I’ll keep trying until I get the answers to my questions.
It’s 2022 almost 2023, how do the council members not know how emails work? How do they not know that this issue is zero tolerance everywhere but the administrator’s office apprently?
This all started with just wanting to know why my veteran form was denied, then the Nike ban, then the campaign promises failed, the back door deals, then police department, now sexual harassment failure, and all the while wanting to know an answer to my email.
Wow, just reading the complaint is enough to make a person sick. It takes a lot of guts For Ms. Rovedo to bring this to a court. I applaud her and wish that someone with some common sense would relieve Mr. Zwolenski of his day-to-day duties in town hall. I agree with David G that the current town council does not have the background, experience, and skill set to handle this. This also proves Mr. Beauregard is way over his head with leading the council.
I am very confused as to why North Smithfield is hiring an expensive law firm investigator (Alan Fung is a partner of this firm). If the trust lawyer is handling the case then why is the trust not paying the bill for an investigator in the best interest of the defense. It appears that the council is looking to mount an expensive defense at the cost of the taxpayer. I also love the fact that you would hire someone without a price estimate or RFP. But the Mr. Beauregard Statement “that while the full cost of hiring O’Gara is not yet known, initial figures were, “less than expected.” If the figures where less than expected than what was expected and how did you know about the cost if you have never discussed the issue in detail with the lawyer until last night. Also the town does have a Human Resource director as stated on the town website “The Finance Director also serves as Treasurer/Collector, Human Resource Director and oversees the Information Technology Department.”
The statement “Mr. Beauregard also addressed questions regarding calls for Zwolenski’s dismissal, noting that the attorney from RI Local Trust who is handling the case advised councilors not to take any action. Town Solicitor David Igliozzi also advised the board that it is not within their purview to dismiss the administrator, Beauregard said.” I think both Lawyers are on shaky ground as some action such as moving the administrator to another building would have been justified. No one is asking for dismissal until the case is heard in court.
To quote William Shakespeare “something is rotten in the state of Denmark”. Or maybe the current town council does not have the background, experience, and skill set to handle these types of HR issues.
And if no rules exist, then they need to be working on enacting some into the charter. No excuse for inaction. Fish or cut bait. Wonder if that is being worked on….or plans to once the new town council takes their places.