Mayor taps Tim Bliss for city solicitor post

By JOHN HOWELL
Posted 12/5/19

By JOHN HOWELL 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. "e;He's looking at implementing a new paradigm

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Mayor taps Tim Bliss for city solicitor post

Posted

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.”

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bill123

"With offices in Providence, Bliss won’t be moving to City Hall.” It sounds like he’s doing this job part time, and the solicitor’s office is headquartered at some anonymous private office. This means city-related records are likely to be stored in private law firm files. This situation hampers the maintenance and continuity of city records during and between administrations. Also, this person’s clients are not stated. Doing so would help answer questions on otherwise hidden potential conflicts of interest. I don’t think all clients like to be publicly exposed, so I question the part-time aspect. Someone should explain why the city solicitor is a part-time job.

Friday, December 6, 2019
bill123

From the city charter (8-4 Law Department):

“The city solicitor shall be attorney for the city and legal advisor of the council if requested, and of all officers, departments and agencies . . . . The city solicitor will have the authority to appoint additional assistant solicitors as needed, or engage a law firm to perform the legal services for the city . . . . All legal opinions furnished to the council and to all city officers, departments and agencies, shall be in writing and filed with the city clerk . . . ” (for complete text see: https://www.warwickri.gov/city-council-legislative-department/pages/warwick-city-charter)

The big question Mr. Bliss should be answering is, just what does he think the job of city solicitor is. We can get some idea by looking at his five statements, as quoted by the Beacon:

“He’s looking at implementing a new paradigm in labor relations”

“Management rights almost don’t exist”

“I see the city taking some of the power back”

“It needs to take back some of that entrepreneurial control”

“Mayor Solomon has a fantastic team in place”

Except for one statement, all of this constitutes a form of public advocating or pandering, nothing to do with a law department. The one exception is “Management rights almost don’t exist”, which needs to be put in writing to fully qualify as a legal opinion, but also appears to throw the city under the bus. This is because he was the same person the Beacon says was ”hammering” (drafting?) a “tentative agreement” with the firefighters union (I assume this is it: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1s4Gxv6Ac0RJxeTQ-Q-Naqwa2fdEbw_Mu ). This agreement has a “Management Rights” section, which essentially recognizes and grandfathers-in unspecified “duly established past practice”. But “duly established past practice” is why “Management rights almost don’t exist”. The two statements oppose each other, yet they essentially come from the same person. This is another big question that needs to be answered.

Saturday, December 7, 2019
bill123

To put it another way, the facts as I understand them are, behind the scenes Mr. Bliss worked to hamper management rights with over-broad contract language in clear conflict with management rights, but in public statements he says trust us, we are trying to fix this. Mr. Bliss also said something “is not exactly a quantum leap forward” ( add that to the list of five in my comment above). This is an understatement, to only say what is happening is not a quantum leap forward.

Saturday, December 7, 2019
bill123

The “new paradigm” Mr. Bliss speaks of includes “management rights” clauses in contracts. But the idea that a “management rights” clause is needed at all is an admission we live in a bizarro world where inmates are running the asylum. Management is called “management” for a reason. Management does not need a clause in a contract to tell them their “rights”, or their job. We already have laws, regulations, policies and accepted standard practices which govern. If these are broken, a contract is not a fix, but a trojan horse. You are opening up to negotiation and arbitration something that was never before negotiable. Ultimately, the will and rights of the People are further diminished.

Saturday, December 7, 2019
wwkvoter

Bill those are interesting things I never would have thought of...

Monday, December 9, 2019
Libra

Bill123 is the smartest guy in the room, great comments!

Wednesday, December 11, 2019