by Michael TorelliHerald Staff
The Town of Cheshire recently entered into a settlement agreement with a local union group after a former Town Clerk's office employee filed two grievances against her supervisor earlier this year.
The employee, who was unnamed in the statement released by Council 4 AFSCME, the group representing the Town Hall employee bargaining unit, had filed two grievances against Town Clerk Laura Brennan in March of this year, stating that Brennan discriminated against the employee, violating both the Municipal Employees Relations Act and the collective bargaining agreement between the Town and the union.
The provisions of the settlement laid out that future performance reviews would be forwarded to the employee and that, if a face-to-face evaluation were required, Brennan, Human Resources Director Lou Zullo, and the employee would have to be present.
It was stipulated that all communications between Brennan and the employee would be conducted in writing or in the presence of a union representative at the employee’s discretion. Finally, Brennan agreed to a reassignment of seating arrangements within the Town Clerk’s office. Should the reassignment not have occurred, then the employee would have been allowed to return to her original desk, which is toward the rear of the office.
However, following the announcement of the settlement, the employee was hired for another position at Town Hall, leaving Brennan and Deputy Town Clerk Patti King as the only two staff members currently in the office.
Kevin Murphy, director of Collective Bargaining and Organizing for Council 4, said that four assistant town clerks — including the one who filed the grievance — have left to seek employment elsewhere since January 2016, when Brennan began in her current position.
“The tone or the attitude within the office changed dramatically from what it was before,” reflected Murphy. “If you’re getting berated like that, it doesn’t make for a good work environment and it doesn’t foster people contributing their wisdom for the benefit of the public.”
Brennan, however, argued that the assistant town clerks left to seek full-time positions within the municipality. The part-time assistant town clerk position has since been cut.
“The reason why the part time assistants were leaving were to be able to get full-time positions,” reflected Brennan. “Anyone who left was a part-timer.”
Brennan did not wish to elaborate on the details of the grievance.
“I prefer not to discuss the unfortunate situation because it goes back many years and, hopefully, it’s been resolved because she has moved on to a new office,” Brennan said. “The Town Clerk’s office is still one of the best-run town clerk’s offices in the state. We get lots of compliments.”
Brennan later commented that she believes the grievance dates back to when King was first hired as deputy town clerk, following Brennan’s successful election to the Town Clerk position. She said a panel of clerks from Waterbury, Wolcott, and Woodbridge interviewed both King and the other employee before recommending King to Brennan.
“They chose Patti, and I agreed with them,” she said. “ … She (the employee) thought she was automatically going to get the position, but I have never regretted choosing Patti as my deputy. It’s been the best decision I’ve ever made as Town Clerk.”
Brennan added that she is currently seeking to fill the full-time assistant town clerk position. She also plans to use some Town Clerk funding to hire a part-time employee, but the details have yet to be finalized.
Still, Council 4 leaders believe that Brennan is the cause of the hostile work environment. Murphy said the employee who filed the grievance was subject to constant criticism and critiquing, micromanaging, and a “my way or the highway” attitude from Brennan.
Council 4 Public Affairs Coordinator Larry Dorman said the issue went beyond personal dynamics.
“We’re talking about intimidating, abusive behavior that really has no place in any worksite, let alone a place where people serve the public and are working hard for the townspeople and the taxpayers,” he said.
One of the issues, Murphy added, is that, because Brennan is an elected official, the Town is unable to reprimand her.
“The other fact that we ran into here, which is somewhat unique in most of our dealings, is it’s an elected position and, to a large degree, that ties the Town’s hands, too,” he said.
As for Brennan, she said she and King have been working hard since the employee’s departure to handle dog licensing, recordings, and property transfers.
“We’re holding the fort,” she said.