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Fired South Portland worker seeks layoff probe

News

Fired South Portland worker seeks layoff probe

Public rally planned April 6 at City Hall

SOUTH PORTLAND — One of the five veteran city employees who were laid off last month is calling for an independent investigation into how the workers were selected and how the layoffs were carried out.

Deb Smith, the former operations supervisor for the Recreation Department, presented her demand in a written report to City Manager Jim Gailey and Mayor Tom Blake on Tuesday. 

Smith said she decided to submit the report to the city after Gailey reneged on an agreement to conduct an exit interview.  

"I have given so much of myself to the people of South Portland for 27 years," Smith said in a press release. "I couldn't just walk away without sharing the information within my report. My hope is that after reading it, the city of South Portland hires an independent investigator to ensure that the voices of the employees are heard and appropriate action is taken."

Former City Councilor David Jacobs, a marketing and public relations consultant, was hired by Smith to handle press inquiries immediately following the layoffs. But Jacobs declined to provide a copy of the report this week, saying Smith was advised by the attorney she hired to only submit it to Gailey and Blake. Smith did not respond to a request for comment.

Maria Fox, Smith's attorney, said it's unclear whether the report is a public document or part of a confidential employee file. Fox would not comment about the contents of the report to "give the city a chance to do the right thing." Fox would not say what her client would do if the city does not act on the report.

Jacobs said Smith disputes that she was laid off strictly for budgetary reasons. He said Smith was "an outspoken woman who met with her boss (Dana Anderson) to address morale and management issues." 

Human Resources Director John McGough would neither confirm nor deny that any formal complaints had been filed in his office against Anderson, saying they are considered confidential under state law.

"I am not in a position to provide you information regarding your request," McGough said in an e-mail. 

Last year, however, in a different case, McGough did, in fact, deny that formal complaints had been filed against another city department head. McGough did not respond with an explanation about the differences between the two requests. 

Public outrage has grown since the layoffs were announced on Feb. 24. In addition to Smith, other laid off employees were Public Works Supervisor Dave Gaudet, an employee for 40 years; Human Resources assistant Pamela St. John, an employee for 28 years; librarian Reta Nappi, an employee for 20 years, and library clerk Monica Dubay, an employee for 15 years. 

The employees were given five minutes to collect their belongings before being escorted out of their respective buildings. It was later revealed that Anderson and McGough each received a $4,000 pay increase in months before the layoffs, which Gailey said was for increased responsibilities.

Tim Gato, who was assigned the title of deputy director of Public Works and Parks and Recreation, also received a pay raise. 

Some residents have organized a letter-writing campaign in support of the laid-off employees. A public demonstration is planned for 6:15 p.m. on April 6, prior to a City Council meeting. 

Angela Griffiths, one of three organizers, Wednesday said she expects a good turnout. 

"Everywhere I go in South Portland people are talking about these layoffs and the egregious manner in which they were conducted," Griffiths said. "We want answers. As it stands right now, we don't even know if any alternative options were looked at." 

Griffiths said residents want to know why the city has not released plans for how the duties of laid-off employees would be redistributed. She said they also want to know whether the employees accepting those new responsibilities would receive pay increases. 

Blake said Wednesday that he had received an e-mail with Smith's report, but couldn't open the attachment. He said he would be meeting with Gailey on Thursday, and expected to discuss the report. 

Blake said the City Charter prohibits councilors from interfering with the hiring and firing of city employees. The only way the employees can be reinstated is for the council to increase the budget. "I don't see that happening," he said. 

Councilor Jim Soule attempted to schedule an executive session for March to conduct an employee evaluation of Gailey, but withdrew his request because the motion was not properly worded. Any closed session to evaluate the city manager in this context would need the support of five councilors and tread a fine line between confidential personnel information and a public budget discussion.

With the exception of Soule, Gailey seems to have the full support of the council. 

Blake complimented Gailey, who has conceded the layoffs were not handled in line with his personal beliefs, for trying to make amends with the laid-off workers. Blake said Gailey has sent each of them letters of recommendation and full explanations of their available benefits. He has also encouraged them to send written comments and concerns about the layoffs.

"In a way you could say that's an exit interview right there," Blake said.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net.