Mediation Offered for Concrete Plant Dispute

Projo is reporting that there is a proposal for mediation between Cullion Concrete Plant and the city of Cranston. From the Projo:

CRANSTON — The contentious courtroom fight over a half-built concrete batching plant off Pontiac Avenue could be headed to mediation.

The Supreme Court proposed yesterday that Cullion Concrete Corp. and city officials meet with retired Chief Justice Joseph R. Weisberger to hammer out a resolution, according to lawyers for both sides.

Vito L. Sciolto, the city solicitor, said officials are still weighing the proposal.

But John O. Mancini, an attorney for Cullion, said his client is ready to take part.

“We’re amenable to it,� he said in an interview late yesterday afternoon. [full text]

15 thoughts on “Mediation Offered for Concrete Plant Dispute

  1. Concrete plant update: The state Supreme Court has ordered mediation; John Mancini claims a new appointee to the ZBR has been “poisoned”; residents don’t feel their interests will be served.

    A couple of points from my perspective:

    a.) Does anyone remember that this permit was approved by the Laffey administration in an unheard-of 11 DAYS? The less this is reported (thank you for omitting it, Dave Scharfenberg), the more room John Mancini has to argue that his client is being mistreated. WRONG! The fact is, Cullion’s approval was unprecedented (and likely illegal, as it did not go through the proper city channels for approval), and the city is trying to correct a horrendous misdeed.

    b.) I wonder how many people Mr. Mancini helped get positions on city boards and commissions while on the City Council — including ZBR. Now an appointee is “poisoned” because the city is looking out for residents’ interests and ensuring that the appointee won’t have to recuse himself? From his half-hearted run for mayor in 2004 to falling in with a company seeking to pollute Pontiac Avenue with concrete dust, Mr. Mancini has certainly strayed far afield from his city’s best interests.

    c.) The city is trying to stop the plant. Residents want the plant stopped. I disagree with Mr. Mattiucci’s suggestion that the city will abandon the residents. He states: “The city’s track record on representing us doesn’t inspire confidence.â€?

    Rich Crowell sees the issue as it is: Mediation is a delaying tactic by Cullion, but ultimately, I think Mr. Crowell sees the long view and knows that in the end, this proposal will be killed.

    I’d also add that Council President Garabedian is on record opposing any payment to Cullion (“not a nickel”) to get them to drop their plans.

    This project will not happen. Mark my words.

  2. Jesse,
    Hopefully you’re correct. What will be interesting to see is how that will be accomplished. Will Cullion receive a pay-out from the City, will they just walk away or will the mediation reach a compromise agreeable to all parties (although I doubt one exists)?

    What I do find unfortunate, regardless of the outcome, is that the residents who have worked so dilligently to protect their homes, neighborhoods and the City will not get their say in the process.

  3. What will be really scary is if someday John Mancini runs for Mayor and everyone votes for him because they forgot about how much he didn’t work with the community and defended a project that was unwanted and potentially harmful.

    Why can’t Aram Garabedian and John Mancini sit down and work this out? Both are men of substantial political experience, and for what it’s worth, they do both belong to the same party. Can’t we resolve this like gentlemen, or gentlemen with small armies of lawyers at least?

  4. Kiersten:

    In (at least) partial answer to your question, there’s bad blood between Mancini and Garabedian going back to the 04 race. Mancini ran a nominal campaign (meaning, strictly, “in name only”), even naming himself as treasurer — see his 04 campaign report on the RI elections site here:

    Mancini used the Dems’ office in Knightsville and didn’t pay for it (see campaign reports under John O Mancini here: Then, Garabedian’s name on the ticket handed Mancini 11,000 votes — half of Laffey’s total and easily within striking distance of a win if Mancini had actually done some work. (And for those who doubt Garabedian’s impact, see the citywide council race in 06).

    Mancini also did personal business in the campaign HQ, even bringing clients in for conferences, a major ethical no-no.

    So first, I wouldn’t say Garabedian and Mancini “belong to the same party,” except, again, nominally. And second, Mancini is on the wrong side of an issue that Aram is passionate about stopping, pulling PR stunts instead of seeking a real resolution (or does anyone but Mancini think that calling a ZBR appointee “poisoned” is legitimate bargaining practice?).

    A couple of final points: Mancini IS the lawyer for Cullion, not “a gentleman with a small army of lawyers” (to paraphrase). If there’s mediation to be had, it should be between the Council and Cullion directly — without Mancini in the way. He has clearly promised Cullion some kind of reward based on his past experience in Cranston. But unfortunately for Cullion (and fortunately for the city), the company will only realize its folly in hiring Mancini when it’s too late — and long after he’s cashed those hefty retainer checks for doing, in essence, nothing.

    And don’t worry — if Mancini runs for anything, his record of supporting a major polluter who got an illegal permit will not be forgotten.

  5. Jesse, Does this mean Mancini owes the BOE over $20,000 in “outstanding loans” from money he borrowed for his campaign? That’s what it looks like from the report.

  6. I’d like to chime in on a few things regarding this topic. First, to Kiersten, no – Mancini owes nothing to the BOE. Those are loans that he took out for his campaign, probably money he loaned himself hoping to be repaid someday from future contributions to his campaign. If he “contributed” that sum to his campaign, he would not be allowed to reimburse himself from future campaign contributions. In the end, if you lose, it amounts to the same thing. In short, you’re not getting the money back.

    To Jesse, you make great points to which I’d only add the following – not only did Cullion’s permit receive an expedited process, but it was issued mere days before final passage of the ordinance prohibiting permits for such ventures. This is no small fact and gets to the heart of why the process was abused to begin with. Second, and again no small fact, Cullion did not have a valid DEM permit in support of his project. He did have a permit issued in 2004 in support of another, less intrusive project, but not a concrete batching facility. According to documents on this issue, it isn’t until June that Cullion’s attorney and Bldg. Inspector Anderson corresponded and agreed that Cullion had to go to DEM and obtain a valid permit. And, then, that application to transfer the existing DEM permit didn’t occur until the end of July.

    I haven’t got great hopes for a negotiated settlement because I can’t see what there is to agree on. And if there is a settlement, it will involve the payment of some money to Cullion – an outcome that the City Council will oppose.

    I also have got to agree that Mancini’s political future doesn’t look bright, but I didn’t think it did prior to his representation of Cullion.

  7. Geoff:

    The only reason the term “settlement” is even being discussed is that Mancini’s been throwing around the $1.5 million figure around for months, raising the specter of financial “loss” (and likely civil suit) if the project is stopped. Mancini, as you may have also noticed, plans to sue the neighbors (to pay his legal fees!) for trying to stop the permit.

    here’s the ProJo story:

    Hmm… sue the city, sue the neighbors, sue the ZBR.

    Not a winning strategy, I would say. One that a bully would love, certainly, but not one that is sure to succeed. Or leave Cullion in, shall we say, good stead with the city if they should try to build anything else.

    Here’s what I’d like to see: the city settles with Cullion for something like $500,000 to buy the land and drop all future claim to the land, etc., etc.; splits the cost with the Pawtuxet River Authority; and refuses to cover legal fees for Cullion. That way, there’s no plant; the land is kept for open space; and Mancini gets to chase Cullion for his fees.

    Now, how plausible is it? Well, let’s take a “mediation” view. Cullion is out $1.5m, or so says Mancini. But the permit’s illegal, essentially. Plus the plant won’t be built for legally sound reasons. Cullion would be smart to take the $1 million hit and write it off. “Purchasing” the land (and protection for the neighbors) for $500,000 is a bargain for the city, especially if PRA comes up with $200,000 or so.

    Garabedian may decide that a small amount to end the issue is better than refusing to pay anything.

    Stay tuned…

  8. I have to say that I just don’t understand how the threat of litigation should stop Cranston or any other city from doing the right thing in ANY situation where the quality of life of their residents is being compromised.

  9. Rachel:

    It’s unfortunate, but it’s almost like the more clear-cut the issue, the more likely it’s going to wind up in court. To use another local example: It’s clear that the school budget has been growing far faster than the city can afford — yet it looks like we’re headed for another Caruolo action.

    Now, to the other aspect — how it may affect a city’s decision-making — once an issue gets into the arena of court, the whole issue (for better or worse) becomes subject to the “balance” of the law. Now, a city has to decide how much its stance is worth, in both moral and financial terms — though it’s generally more the latter.

    In this case, though, John Mancini is nowhere near strong enough in his position (as I’ve explained previously) to deserve any sense of fear that the Cranston City Council is just going to fold. If Cullion were so “amenable” to mediation as Mancini claims, they know they’re going to lose something, i.e., their rights to a batching plant.

    Well, it looks like they’ve ALREADY lost that. The ZBR was about to revoke the permit and stop the project until this mediation was ordered. Mancini would only be deluding himself (not completely out of character for him) if he thinks mediation is going to result in anything different. No, he’s in it for the money now — notice how he’s going after everybody for damages and legal fees.

    The concrete plant is DOA. It’s only a matter of time until it’s formal.

  10. Jesse,
    I think that I tend to think more of the moral consequences than financial ones, but that could be because I look at it from a spectator standpoint.

  11. I must agree with much of what Jesse alleges. I too feel Mancini is choking Cullion with legal fee’s. I think we all know this plant is going to ever be built and now it’s just about a dollar amount.

    Mancini gauges Cullion with his attorney bills. The cost to settle was at 1.5 then 1.2 and I agree…500,000 is good and he can write off the rest and still do well. That toxic play set can be taken down and moved elsewhere.

    The City, along with other parties if agreeable could mediate the entire permitting process ~ I think only if Mancini has sucked Cullion’s legal well dry….only then will Mancini turn the silver platter to Napolitano (whom he’s had a signed agreement with) and say “here’s your chance to look like a White Knight and settle this thing for $500,000″/ I prefer Cullion to feel the pressure that is going to be heading his way and recoil to another town and pay us for our hardship. The Comprehensive Plan said it all – I told the Mayor months ago to take it back by eminent domain. Same with Mulligan’s…especially if you are going to change the zoning and think you can make a mint on it. We have every right to take it back and give them fair market value under the initial contract and restrictions. You don’t need to take a poll to be proactive and not reactive which is what we have been doing. God, let’s just slam him with the work and have him suck Cullion’s well dry that much faster.

    I also agree that Garabedian has taken this personally….and there is an ax to grind. Don’t get me wrong, I, whom sits 1.5 miles away can tell you this will affect all of Cranston in taxes and my air quality will be affected. The council appointees that are in other area’s than Ward 2 are fooling themselves by not posturing themselves to constituents and the media that this is a problem for the entire City.

    There are so many Keystone Cop mistakes on this deal. There are some of us that won’t just want them to leave, but like some of the recent General Assembly uncovered corruption….we want the criminals to pay as our lives have been put on hold.

    The suing the neighbors comment is pathetic!

  12. Suzanne:

    On your point about eminent domain, it’s not always the easy answer. Remember the land for the new school on Scituate Avenue — O’Leary offered far less than the land was reasonably worth, then had to fight the owner in court when he balked at the figure. Then, the land turned out to be a flood plain, which held back the opening even further.

    If the city decided on eminent domain, in other words, it could potentially open up a whole new set of problems (i.e., delays). Now, the “value” of the property becomes an issue of endless argument. In case you were wondering, according to the city tax rolls, the land is assessed at $218,481. Even in the softening real estate market, there’s no way Cullion would settle for that.

    What I was suggesting, instead, is that the city would provide some of the money to allow the land to become the PRA’s, not the city’s — or, at least, not permanently. The city can (and, in my view, should) pay Cullion to stop the plant and “settle” the issue, and turn the land over to the PRA for permanent preservation. PRA could also handle any clean-up (if needed) — I would usually say that Cullion should clean up the site BEFORE any sale, but given the company’s track record, that would certainly add more years of foot-dragging.

    By offering Cullion some amount (I’ve suggested $500,000) to cut their losses and give up the land to PRA, what you’re effectively doing is keeping them in the weak legal position they’re in — and not allowing the property’s value to be put in play. To them, the land is worthless if they can’t have a concrete plant, right? I say, don’t give them a reason to argue otherwise.

    Put another way, the city wouldn’t be “purchasing” the land so much as helping transfer ownership to a nonprofit organization — this protects the city from a battle over a “price” on the land.

    I hope I’ve clarified this for you. I think you’d agree that we all want a quick, decisive end to this issue. Eminent domain would make it more of a long, convoluted, dragged-out affair. Pay them off — then see them off!

    As for Mancini, it’s likely he’s already been paid a pile of money. On corporate issues like this, lawyers typically get retainer fees (probably in the range of $200-300 per hour, and possibly more), as opposed to the flat 1/3 of settlements that ambulance-chasers collect. What he’s clearly trying to do is get other parties to pay his fees, rather than having to chase Cullion for money after losing the case.

    Consider this: after the election last year, the concrete plant permit was a target for the newly elected officials. Here it is, nearly an entire year later, and they haven’t been able to convene the ZBR or take other steps (aside from the council’s no-concrete-plant ordinance) because of the court case that Mancini is pressing. This also makes me wonder just how much Mancini really wants to participate in the mediation — his gravy train will stop once the case is over.

  13. Fair market value makes sense, but it needs to be based on the land’s value according to the Comprehensive Plan prior to giving this permit.

    Mancini’s claims of $1.5 fee’s already paid out is bannanas.

    Why is Nappy dealin with the enemy, and still whining to be on the side of the people. Why is this about politics? Why can’t it be black and white. Vito was Laffey’s dog and now he’s Nappy’s. Something reaks!

    Jesse, sounds like you have a good political satire to write about. Have lot’s of bannanas on hand and I’m sure you’ll tap into more resident’s than Laffey ever did.

  14. Curious George:

    1. How does the Comprehensive Plan outline property values? I confess I’m not familiar with this concept. The value I cited is listed in the current city tax rolls.

    2. City lawyers will always represent the administration that’s in place. That, to me, isn’t enough to suggest some sort of conspiracy. Although I probably would have preferred to see Nap hire someone else.

    3. The sad thing is, this whole situation is real. Even a satirist couldn’t imagine a more sorry scenario.

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