Flexing His Muscle
In North Providence, where politics is not for the faint-of-heart, one town councilman is defending himself against complaints that he's doing town business on the clock of his public-sector employer. He says a little-known ``flex-time '' law allows him to do it. Jim Hummel has the councilman's explanation, and reaction to it.
North Providence Councilman Frank Manfredi is a very familiar figure at Town Hall these days.
In addition to attending monthly meetings, the District 2 councilman chairs the Finance Committee and this fall has convened frequent special meetings like this one.
Manfredi also has called or visited Town Hall seeking information from town employees at different times during day; sometimes while on the clock at his job as a veteran manager for the Providence Housing Authority. In July, Manfredi came to Town Hall one day on his lunch hour and wound up getting into a physical confrontation with the mayor's chief of staff, later filing an assault complaint with the state police.
North Providence is a place where politics is very much hands-on. But several months ago, Mayor Charles Lombardi said enough is enough when it came to Manfredi's calls to Town Hall.
Lombardi: ``To say that Mr. Manfredi has interrupted, and disrupted, town business on a day-to-day basis, is an understatement. He's called the Finance Department and harassed employees, clerk's office employees, tax collection office employees and I have a history of phone calls that he's made here daily.''
Let's be clear - there is no love lost between Lombardi and Manfredi. Politics aside, though, what bothers the mayor most is Manfredi has been making calls from his office phone here at Dominica Manor on Atwells Avenue - or stirring the political pot in person at Town Hall during the day.
Lombardi: ``He came in and caused two of our ladies to be very upset, they were crying, because of his mannerism and his bully-ness, so to say. We had to ask Mr. Manfredi to leave.
That was on Providence Housing Authority time. A week later he went to the state police, on Providence Housing Authority time to file a complaint against our chief of staff, who was protecting the ladies here.''
So Lombardi filed a formal complaint of his own in September with the Housing Authority's Executive Director Stephen O'Rourke, outlining a series of times during the workweek that Manfredi visited, or contacted Town Hall.
O'Rourke tells the Hummel Report his staff investigated the mayor's complaints and determined Manfredi was using ``vacation time'' for most of the specific incidents Lombardi cited. But, he admitted, Manfredi *had* been making some calls during the work day from the office.
Hummel: ``Shortly after he was elected four years ago, Manfredi was suspended without pay from his Housing Authority job for a month for violating the Hatch Act, which prohibits federally-funded workers from dabbling in politics. The office of Special Counsel in Washington determined he had violated the Act by running for office, but allowed him to keep his job.
At the time Manfredi said if it came down to having to choose between his $70,000 job and the council position, which pays $8,000 a year, he'd resign his Housing Authority job. Shortly after Manfredi was elected, his boss warned him about town business getting in the way of his job.
O'Rourke: ``He was a pretty ambitious politician, I would think, and I just didn't want him using up whole mornings making phone calls for business up there.''
Fast forward to this fall, when Mayor Lombardi's letter arrived on O'Rourke's desk.
O"Rourke: ``He admitted he made a few phone calls. I said, `It's not allowed, don't do it.'
Then he said, `Well, you know' - he presented the general law - he said, `I'm not abusing it. But I'm allowed to do it.'"
Manfredi gave his boss a copy of legislation - passed 20 years ago - that requires employers to give part-time elected officials flex-time to conduct their elected business, if possible.
O'Rourke had never seen the law.
The Hummel Report spoke this week with one of the bill's sponsors, who recalled the legislation was aimed at allowing General Assembly members to adjust their work day to make the sessions in the afternoon. Not necessarily to be doing outside work during the work day.
O'Rourke: ``I was, like, shocked by it. I said, `Did anybody challenge this?' I mean, how can they do that?''
So we asked Manfredi - who chose not to run for re-election - about it at a recent meeting of the Finance Committee.
Hummel: ``I guess the larger issue is at various times during the day, what's the accountablility? 10 in the morning, 2 in the afternoon - lunch hour, that you're calling Town Hall''
Manfredi: ``No. No. I have a right to be here during my lunch hour and I come here during my lunch hour - many times - 12, 12:15, 12:30.''
Hummel: ``What about 10 in the morning?''
Manfredi: ``I was off. I was on vacation time - I used vacation time.''
Hummel: ``It's documented?''
Manfredi: ``Absolutely, it's in the letter, Jim.''
Hummel: ``I saw that, Frank, but does it say, okay I'm taking 10 minutes off?''
Manfredi: ``Every single minute and hour I took off was previously documented because they
knew I had a meeting. I've got 12 weeks of vacation time.''
Lombardi says Manfredi is hiding behind the law to play his own political games.
Lombardi: ``You need to be a different person to try and take advantage of that. I think in your mind and in your heart, you should know that law needs to be changed, so to say, and be honest with yourself and not try to take advantage of the situation. Taking advantage of your job, your employment and your employer.''
Hummel: ``Do you think he's taking advantage of that law?''
In North Providence, Jim Hummel, for the Hummel Report.