Judge dismisses Rep. Williams’ lawsuit against city of Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A Rhode Island Superior Court judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit state Rep. Anastasia Williams filed against the city of Providence over the city’s refusal to award her a taxpayer-funded grant to purchase a second home.

In approving the city’s motion to dismiss the seven-count suit, Judge Maureen Keough focused largely on the apparent nonexistence of a contract between Williams and city for the $78,624 grant. The city maintains it denied Williams’ 2012 application for the money because she works in the same department that managed the grant program.

In a hearing last week, Williams’ attorney, former state Rep. Timothy Williamson, argued that his client had no reason to believe it was a conflict of interest to obtain a grant because she was approved for two grants and two loans under the administrations of former Mayors Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci Jr. and David Cicilline.

Williamson also said the city solicitor’s office never issued a written opinion stating the conflict.

But Keough said that while Williams may have believed she would be approved for the grant based on her previous experiences with the city, she was not given any formal approval.

Williams, a Democrat who has represented the city’s West End since 1993 and has worked for the city since 1994, filed the lawsuit in December, claiming she has “suffered immediate and irreparable harm” as a result of the city’s grant denial. She is seeking re-election this year.

Attorneys for the city have argued that although another city employee initially told Williams she would be eligible for the grant as long as she received approval from the state and federal government, that individual’s superiors acted quickly to inform the lawmaker that she was not eligible.

City tax records show Williams purchased 17-19 Division Street on Oct. 11, 2012, for $146,500. (The property is now assessed at $266,200.) Around the same time, she applied for a $78,624 grant through the Providence Redevelopment Agency Neighborhood Stabilization Program, according to the suit.

The Neighborhood Stabilization Program was established in 2008 by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to help revitalize communities devastated by a spike in foreclosures and property abandonment. Rhode Island received about $19.6 million through the program; Providence was assigned about $3.3 million of the state’s total award, according to an audit released by HUD last year.

In the lawsuit, Williams claims she refinanced her primary residence, located around the corner at 32 Hammond St., in order to obtain $78,000 needed to qualify for the grant. Williams received a letter from the city on Dec. 17, 2012, informing her that the application would not be approved.

Williams was not in court Tuesday. Following the decision, Williamson said he would speak to his client about whether to appeal or file a new lawsuit entirely.

Williamson said he believed the discovery process would have shown that Williams was “given green lights by everyone” to apply for the grant.

“We are disappointed with the court’s decision,” he said. “We thought the complaint was sufficient.”

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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