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SP secretary fights termination by city

News

SP secretary fights termination by city

SOUTH PORTLAND — A Portland resident who spent 25 years with the South Portland Police Department wants an apology and better working conditions for her former colleagues after her termination in early June.

Mary Lou Bagley, 65, was let go June 4 on the grounds of insubordination, according to the termination letter written by South Portland Human Resource Director Donald Brewer.

The insubordination came from Bagley's refusal to handle incoming phone calls and greet the public at the city Public Safety Building, the letter said.

Bagley said the final straw for her was requiring her to work in a front office greeting area unprotected by bullet-proof glass. She said was never properly trained to handle non-911 incoming phone calls after dispatching operations where shifted to Portland last year.

South Portland Police Chief Ed Googins declined to comment on the situation and the working area Bagley said she shared with two other public safety secretaries.

"I am prohibited by state law to comment on a personnel matter such as this," Googins said.

For 25 years, Bagley, who is married former South Portland Police Officer Howard Bagley, worked part- and full-time for the police department, typing police reports, processing traffic tickets and accident reports, and compiling witness statements and other documents for court files.

Bagley said her problems began when she and other office staff were asked to answer calls from people who were often in crisis. About two weeks before her termination, she and two other staffers were shifted to work in cubicles in the former dispatch area and required to greet the public.

"It was like a telemarketer's cubicle," she said.

The front counter is protected by Plexiglas, not the bullet-proof glass shielding the former dispatch area.

"It was the first time in all my jobs I was ever afraid of work," she said, adding she knew of one officer on restricted duty who could not work the front counter because he could not fully control his weapon.

After about a week, Bagley told Deputy Police Chief Amy Berry she would no longer greet public safety building visitors or answer calls not directed to her extension.

Bagley was placed on paid administrative leave on May 29. Before she was placed on leave, Googins asked Bagley to reconsider her decision, she said.

A hearing was held May 31 where Bagley told the chiefs and Brewer she did not want to be terminated and repeated her concerns about her work environment. At the hearing, alternatives were discussed, and Brewer outlined how Bagley would lose 60 days of accrued sick time if she were involuntarily dismissed as opposed to giving two weeks notice.

According to his letter to Bagley, Brewer met with the Googins and Berry after the hearing. Berry offered to provide training as Googins stressed the need to keep officers on the streets and noted department volunteers also greeted the public.

On June 1, Bagley met with Brewer and South Portland Employee Relations Manager Amy Jennings, and Brewer told her her duties would be the same, but additional training was available. When Bagley said she would not return, Brewer told her he was following recommendations by Berry and Googins to fire her.

Bagley had been working 30 hours a week when she was let go, and said she liked to get to the office early to work without distractions.

"I still get up at the crack of dawn," she said.

Shortly after her dismissal, Bagley received a settlement offer from City Manager James Gailey. In exchange for giving two week's notice (while not being required to come to work), Bagely would receive her accrued sick pay of almost $5,000.

Bagely said she went online one morning to check her bank accounts and discovered almost $3,000, her sick pay after taxes, had been deposited.

"It just appeared," she said. "It was like dangling a carrot."

But the settlement required her to relinquish all claims against city, keep terms of the agreement confidential and no party would admit to wrongdoing.

Bagley turned down the agreement and returned the money last month.

"The city can keep its money, and I will keep my dignity," she said in an email to her lawyer, John Richardson of Brunswick.

Early this week, Bagley said the city is contesting her unemployment claim at the Maine Department of Labor.

She had hoped to work until she was 66, so she could retire with a full Social Security benefit and Medicare eligibility, but Bagley said she is not eager to pursue her case in court.

"I think I would win, but I don't want a drawn-out litigation," she said.

Her husband was on the force for 32 years and recommended sheltering the dispatch area with bullet-proof glass, he said.

"She a good worker," Howard Bagley said. I think this could have been handled differently. I find administrators don't want to admit they are wrong."

Mary Lou Bagley said she would like the other staff to be relieved of phone and greeting duties and misses her work.

"It was a lot more work on an already overburdened staff," she said. "But I miss the friendships, the officers and the camaraderie with my co-workers."

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.