By a unanimous vote, the Attleboro Redevelopment Authority board decided Thursday afternoon to appeal that two employees were wrongfully fired in 2009 and must be reinstated with back pay, including benefits and interest.
The decision to appeal does not necessarily mean the case will be heard by the Massachusetts Appeals Court. Board Chair Judy Robbins said the ARA would try to reach a settlement. The agency will have some time to do that because the appeal process could take a year or more, .
"The time given to appeal is very short; you have 30 days to make up your mind," said Robbins after the announcement of the decision, which was made at the end of a 90-minute, closed-door executive session at the . "There are lots of things to look at and we will be discussing the possibility of a settlement. We'll be discussing all kinds of things, and quite frankly, we wanted to reserve our right to appeal. Besides, of course, we think that we should have won."
The appellate court would be the third entity to rule on whether Executive Director Michael Milanoski and Chief Financial Officer Meg Ross should have been fired nearly three years ago. Both the state Civil Service Commission and Judge Thomas F. McGuire Jr. determined the actions were not appropriate. Both decision makers rejected the ARA's claim that Milanoski, Ross and two others (who did not appeal their firings) were let go due to lack of funds. They said the real reason was the board was dealing the final blow in Mayor Kevin Dumas' campaign to oust Milanoski.
The vote to appeal the judge's decision came three days after the City Council met about the issue. Several councilors were less than enthused about continuing a legal battle that has already run a tab of an estimated $600,000 and could grow substantially higher. They were especially frustrated by the fact that the council does not get to vote on whether to appeal despite the possibility the final bill for the conflict could be presented to them because the ARA has no money.
"Somebody sang a song about 'know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em,'" said Councilor Mark Cooper at the meeting on Monday. "It's time to fold … pay off what we have out there, take the loss, cut our losses and make it happen."
Attleboro resident Larre Nelson shared that frustration with the ARA board on Thursday during the open-session portion of the meeting. He was one of approximately 30 people who attended the council meeting, but was not allowed to speak because council President Frank Cook refused to allow public comment. He told the ARA board that neither the city councilors nor the people in the audience were "buying" City Solicitor Mangiaratti's presentation Monday of a legal analysis in favor of filing an appeal.
"It appears to me that we did something wrong, perhaps we did something illegal," Nelson said. "Two institutions of justice have decided that the city position is not correct. I think it's time for you to try to settle this and get done with it and move on."
As soon as Nelson completed his statement, City Councilor Peter Blais stood up and gave an opposing view.
"All due respect to Mr. Nelson's comments, I don't think that is the true picture of the whole council in general," Blais said. "I think there are some on the council that feel the opposite."
Blais and Jay DiLisio, the only other city councilor in attendance, were allowed to stay for the executive session with the four ARA board members. Also attending the executive session were Mangiaratti, Dumas and Budget and Administration Director Barry LaCasse.