Mayor Elorza calls on city treasurer to pay outside law firm handling Jackson recall

City Council Majority Leader Kevin Jackson stands in between Mayor Jorge Elorza and Councilwoman Jo-Ann Ryan. (Photo by Dan McGowan/WPRI)
City Council Majority Leader Kevin Jackson stands in between Mayor Jorge Elorza and Councilwoman Jo-Ann Ryan. (Photo by Dan McGowan/WPRI)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza is calling on the city treasurer to pay the outside law firm hired to represent the Providence Board of Canvassers while City Councilman Kevin Jackson challenges an attempt to recall him from office.

Treasurer James Lombardi confirmed last week that he is withholding more than $30,000 owed to Donoghue Barrett & Singal, claiming he wants “detailed information on the charges and to determine if the proper procedures were followed on the hiring.”

“The city of Providence routinely hires outside counsel in legal matters due to their particular areas of specialty,” Elorza said in a statement Tuesday. “The decision to hire outside counsel is made by the city solicitor and is an important function of the office. With regard to his recent withholding of payment to outside counsel, I immediately call on the city treasurer to fulfill the duties assigned to him by the city charter and to disperse the funds to attorney Dolan, and his firm, for services rendered.”

William Dolan, the lead attorney for the board, is well-known in city government. He is credited with working with former Mayor Angel Taveras to guide the city through its changes to the pension system in 2013. He continues to represent the city in a lawsuit filed by a group of retirees seeking to opt out of the pension settlement.

Dolan and two colleagues sent the city an invoice for $32,875 on Dec. 6, but no payment has been made. The firm, which is charging the city $200 per hour, claimed Dolan, another attorney and a paralegal worked 125.8 hours during the month of November. Many of those hours overlapped, meaning the city was charged more than $200 an hour.

Reached Tuesday, Lombardi said his decision to withhold payment to the firm “has to do with confirming charges, not following procedure and overspending the solicitor’s budget by $1 million.” He questioned why the firm needs three employees to oversee a board meeting when the city has 20 attorneys on staff.

“I have asked for records to confirm the charges without response,” Lombardi said. “I take my position very seriously and am accountable to taxpayers.”

As treasurer, Lombardi serves a four-year term that runs concurrently with the City Council, the body that appointed him. Separately, Lombardi holds a position as senior advisor to the council. He earns $128,539 per year, according to payroll records.

Donoghue Barrett & Singal was hired to represent the board after Jackson and his attorneys objected to hundreds of signatures a group of constituents in Ward 3 collected in an attempt to initiate a recall of the councilman. Jackson is facing a felony embezzlement charge stemming from his arrest in May.

In November, the board disqualified only eight signatures and held seven for further review, leaving the recall group with well over the 300 signatures needed to continue the recall process.

The group is now in the process of collecting roughly 2,000 signatures – 20% of the voters in Ward 3 – by next month. If they are successful, Ward 3 voters will be asked to vote yes or no on whether they wish to recall Jackson. If he is recalled, a special election will be held.

Jackson has filed a complaint against the board with R.I. Board of Election. If the group does submit the next round of signatures, he will likely challenge those as well.

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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