PROVINCETOWN — Vernon Porter, the irrepressible “Lady Di” of WOMR-FM’s most popular show, Friday night’s Leggs Up and Dancing, has been forced to give up his home in Provincetown.
It’s now been seven and a half years since Porter resigned his job as the secretary for the Provincetown Board of Selectmen and filed a disability claim, presenting evidence that a hostile environment at town hall had made him so sick he couldn’t work. The selectmen at the time and the Barnstable County Retirement Board denied Porter’s claim.
A series of appeals ensued, and Porter’s right to a modest retirement pension, estimated at about $20,000 a year, was ultimately affirmed in Superior Court. The retirement board, on the advice of its attorney James Quirk of Hyannis, took the case to the state Appeals Court, which, after a year, remanded it to the Contributory Retirement Appeal Board (CRAB).
And there it has sat for the last 21 months on the desk of an assistant in Attorney General Maura Healey’s office. Porter’s lawyer, Bruce Bierhans of Wellfleet, called the saga “one of the worst examples of government delay I’ve ever seen.”
According to Bierhans, Porter is entitled to retroactive disability benefits totaling about $150,000 at this point. But lack of funds led him to move on Saturday into a condo on Highview Drive in Sandwich, 59 miles from Commercial Street and Lady Di’s beloved radio station.
“Moving in to my new condo tomorrow,” Porter wrote to his friends last Friday, “but I am sure I will be visiting Ptown quite often. Have wedding booked already in 2021.”
Porter officiates at weddings as a minister of the Universal Life Church, an activity that got him in trouble with town officials when he worked for the selectmen.
“They accused me of doing weddings on town time and cheating the town out of money,” he told the Provincetown Banner in 2018. “I never did that — absolutely not.”
Porter’s disability claim was upheld in a February 2018 ruling by Superior Court Justice Cornelius J. Moriarty II. The court relied in part on the findings of a three-person panel of cardiologists and a separate three-person panel of psychiatrists. Both panels were unanimous in judging Porter to be permanently disabled and agreeing that the town hall work environment “might have contributed to or resulted in the disability,” Moriarty wrote.
The County Retirement Board appealed the decision in March 2018.
“We lost about 14 months because of the board’s frivolous appeal,” said Bierhans. “Since it went to the attorney general’s office, they have done absolutely nothing.”
On Feb. 9 Porter received a letter from Assistant Attorney General Uyen M. Tran in response to his request for information about his case.
“When I took on this role as Chair of CRAB back in July 2019,” Tran wrote, “it was my goal and still is my goal to address the pending appeals at CRAB. However, the onset of Covid-19 has made this goal very challenging to say the least. Further complicating matters is the fact that the designee from the Department of Public Health (DPH) who presides over disability retirement matters, resigned from the Board in order to focus her attention on this public health emergency. In light of these circumstances, CRAB has not been able to address disability retirement matters.”
In a Feb. 15 response to Tran, Bierhans wrote, “CRAB has had the case on remand since May 10, 2019, well before any pandemic related shutdown. … I cannot imagine that this case could not have been concluded by now had the will been there.”
A voicemail message left on Tuesday for Tran was not returned by press time.
Porter said that, thanks to WOMR’s John Braden, Lady Di would continue to do her weekly program remotely from her new home in Sandwich. “This makes me very happy,” he said.
Braden confirmed that he and the station’s engineer would be meeting with Lady Di on Sunday to test equipment that will make broadcasting from home possible, a new capacity for WOMR. “Hopefully, it will be plug and play,” said Braden, “so she doesn’t need a technician.”
He noted that Lady Di is the all-volunteer community radio station’s most effective fund-raiser.
“After 21 years in Provincetown,” Porter wrote in his message to friends, “I was sure this would be the last place I ever lived. However, circumstances were such that I was left no choice financially but to sell and leave Paradise. If I ever get my disability pension, who knows, I may be back.”