It’s been more than a year in the making, but now that Mayor Joseph Solomon has appointed a city solicitor, the man who has the job is excited for the city and the direction the mayor is taking.
“He’s looking at implementing a new paradigm in labor relations,” Timothy M. Bliss said in an interview Tuesday, less than 24 hours following City Council confirmation of his appointment to the post.
What change does Bliss see Solomon bringing to the city?
Bliss came aboard at about this time last year to take over the role Diana Pearson filled as an assistant solicitor for former Mayor Scott Avedisian. Pearson served as counsel for the Board of Public Safety and was intricately involved in contract negotiations, which later led to arbitration with the Warwick firefighters.
Bliss stepped into the arbitration that ended up with the ruling that firefighters were not subject to the agreement reached by police and municipal employees that new hires after July 1, 2015, are subject to a tier II pension plan that reduces retiree benefits. The city has appealed the ruling, but as part of the tentative agreement reached with firefighters, which requires council approval, would drop the suit.
Bliss played a role in hammering out the tentative agreement, which in a first for Warwick would establish a trust for the payment of post-employment retiree benefits. Firefighters hired after July 1, 2019, would pay 2 percent of their salary into the trust, which the administration estimates would offset the city’s cost of retiree health care by 27 percent.
Bliss sees the provision as a major development in the city’s labor negotiations.
Speaking generally of city/union negotiations, he said, “Management rights almost don’t exist.” Although the OPEB trust “is not exactly a quantum leap forward,” as he put it, “I see the city taking some of the power back.”
“It needs to take back some of that entrepreneurial control,” Bliss said.
With offices in Providence, Bliss won’t be moving to City Hall. He expects to meet once or twice weekly with Solomon and will be on call at any time. He is highly complementary of the attorneys the mayor has tapped to fill different legal roles, ranging from prosecution to counsels for different boards and commissions.
“Mayor Solomon has a fantastic team in place,” he said.
Members of the City Council gave Bliss high marks as they unanimously approved his appointment. Council President Steve Merolla made a point of saying he supports the nomination and thanked Solomon and his chief of staff, William DePasquale.
DePasquale introduced Bliss on behalf of the mayor, citing his involvement in contract talks with the firefighters and his experience in the field of labor law.
With a degree from the Notre Dame Law School as a member of class of 1999, Bliss is admitted to practice in the state courts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts; U.S. District Courts for the districts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts; and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. He graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1996 from Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, with a Bachelor of Arts degree.
In a resume provided by the mayor’s office, Bliss – among a long list of activities and achievements – highlights his continued representation of municipalities in all aspects of labor and employment law and representation of businesses and individuals in state and federal courts.
After winning election last November, Solomon shied away from appointing a solicitor, noting his familiarity with the Rhode Island legal system as an attorney. At that time, he said he preferred to select the best attorney for the given task, adding that in the process he would be saving taxpayers’ dollars.
Solomon said yesterday Bliss would be paid $60,000 to $70,000, but certainly no more than the prior solicitor. He said he is pleased with Bliss’ performance, adding, “He had all the right tools to do the job.”