Resident Sues Town Over Voided Zoning Board Membership

by | Jul 29, 2014

town hall

William DiStefano, a resident of Miss Fry Drive, has filed suit against the Town Council after his membership to the Zoning Board was nullified in January.

The lawsuit, filed in Superior Court July 7, accuses the Town Council of violating the Open Meetings Act by “failing to properly post agendas and meeting minutes, and failing to give the proper notice concerning the termination of DiStefano’s appointment to the Zoning Board.”

DiStefano was appointed to the Zoning Board last November, after submitting a written application for the position that included the question, “Are you a registered voter of East Greenwich?”

According to the town’s appointment policy for boards and commissions, “applicants shall be residents and electors of the Town of East Greenwich.”

According to Council President Michael Isaacs, DiStefano said he was a registered EG voter on his application. Based on the application and an interview with the Town Council, DiStefano was appointed to fill out a term on the Zoning Board that expired June 30. He served on the board once, at its Nov. 26 meeting, as an alternate.

Subsequently, it was learned that DiStefano was not a registered EG voter at the time he filled out his application. According to the Town Clerk’s office, DiStefano registered to vote in East Greenwich on Dec. 26, 2013, more than a month after he was appointed to the board.

Isaacs said the Town Council did not rule on the matter. Rather, he said, “the appointment was void as a matter of law. He did not meet the qualifications, so it was just void.”

DiStefano’s contention that the Town Council failed to properly post the matter in a meeting agenda, according to Isaacs, is wrong.

“There was no open meetings law violation because there was no meeting,” Isaacs said. “He was notified by the solicitor” that his membership was void.

According to the lawsuit, “DiStefano has suffered and continues to suffer severe and substantial damages” as a result of the town’s action.

DiStefano did not respond to requests for a comment.

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4 Comments

  1. Bob Plain

    What about due process? It seems to me the town solicitor – or the town manager or any given town councilor, for that matter – does NOT have the authority to unilaterally supersede actions taken by the Town Council (whether or not he or she believes the Council took the the vote in error is really beside the point).

    It also seems very highly unlikely that the town solicitor sent this letter without some sort of at least tacit approval from the Town Council. If the Council did sanction this letter (even through a series of unrelated emails and/or conversations) that’s likely a violation of the Open Meetings Laws (in addition to a violation of Distefano’s rights!). This tactic of skirting public scrutiny is known as a “rolling quorum.”

    Reply
  2. Craig A

    I would love to know what his “severe and substantial damages” are from not being able to do what amounts to be volunteer work.

    Reply
  3. Craig A

    Is this the same William DiStefano that sued (and lost) the School District because he and his wife we’re living in NK and trying to enroll their special needs child in East Greenwich, arguing they could because they owned property here?

    Reply

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