A Bristol County Superior Court judge ruled this week that the state Civil Service Commission was correct that two Attleboro Redevelopment Authority employees were wrongfully fired in 2009. Judge Thomas F. McGuire Jr. ordered the ARA to reinstate Michael Milanoski and Meg Ross to their former positions as executive director and chief financial officer, respectively, with back pay, benefits and interest. Their attorney estimated the ARA owes his clients at least $600,000.
In his eight page opinion (it is attached), McGuire wrote that although the ARA board claims it voted to fire Milanoski, Ross and the ARA's other two employees due to lack of funds, the action was actually taken "in an effort to assist" Mayor Kevin Dumas, who since the previous year had been "engaged in a public and private campaign to oust Milanoski."
Mayor Dumas' campaign was initially unsuccessful because Milanoski had the support of a majority of the Authority’s board members. However, in 2009, the mayor's appointees and allies gained a majority on the board. At the first meeting after gaining that majority, on October 13, 2009, a majority of the Authority's board of directors voted to terminate the employment of all four Authority staff members, effective November 13, 2009, ostensibly due to a lack of funds.
The judge continued:
At the time of this vote, as throughout the years in question, the Authority was financially dependent on grants from a variety of government agencies to fund its operations. As part of his efforts to oust Milanoski, Mayor Dumas terminated funding through the federal Community Development Block Grant funds administered by the city of Attleboro. Other grants, such as those administered by the Federal Transit Authority, were in jeopardy. However, the commission found that the authority had funds available to pay the salaries from three sources.
Colin Confoey, attorney for Milanoski and Ross, said he and his clients were pleased with a second consecutive decision in their favor. He said if the ARA board chooses to follow McGuire's order, his clients could begin working again "rather quickly." But it appears City Solicitor Robert Mangiaratti plans to recommend the board appeal the decision.
"In my review of the court's decision, I have identified several legal issues that would be the basis for an appeal," wrote Mangiaratti in a statement released Friday evening (it is attached). "The ARA eliminated the employees' positions for budgetary reasons. I think that the court did not recognize the established right of the ARA to exercise its discretion about how it should spend its limited remaining funds after the federal government terminated its financial support for the Intermodal Transportation Center. Additionally, I think that the court failed to fully distinguish the city and the ARA as separate legal entities as a matter of law."
McGuire wrote that the city and the ARA are "distinct legal entities" that are "closely intertwined."
"The Authority and mayor of Attleboro may have been legally distinct, but they were hardly strangers," McGuire wrote.
When asked about the possibility of an appeal, Confoey noted that the Civil Service Commission and McGuire reached their conclusions after reviewing a substantial amount of information, including a six-day commission hearing, more than 100 exhibits from both sides and briefs in excess of 100 pages from both sides.
"I think any objective person looking at it, now that two independent agencies have reviewed the evidence and found in favor of Michael and Meg, is going to reach the same conclusion," Confoey said.
Mangiaratti plans to meet with the ARA board next week about the possibility of an appeal.