Wow, there is a big mess in the small town of Mendon.
For background read Mendon: Sex Gossip, Raises, Selectmen, Retaliation…..
According to Mendon Director of Public Safety Ernest Horn, Mendon’s Town Administrator Kimberly Newman advised Mendon Town Counsel Michael Maccaro she had been sexually harassed by Assistant Fire Chief Michael Zarella. At the advice of town counsel the Mendon Board of Selectman held a meeting on January 20 to investigate the allegations; all members of the board were present along with Maccaro, Zarella, and Newman. Horn was an invited guest. Zarella denied Newman’s allegations. The outcome of the meeting, which at times was heated, was the Town would hire an independent investigator to determine the validity of the allegations which included sexual harassment, the spreading of rumors, the appropriateness of a raise, and if an inappropriate relationship existed.
The investigation was completed by Allyson Kurker of the law firm Kurker and Paget, the report is dated March 3. Kurker found Selectman Chair Mark Reil and Newman were not in a relationship, Zarella did not have a “good faith belief” that Reil and Newman were in a relationship, Newman’s 34 percent raise was “well-reasoned,” and Zarella “disparaged Ms. Newman and sullied her reputation.”
There was only one problem with the independent investigation, Horn and the BOS were not on the same page regarding what was suppose to be investigated.
Horn moved forward with an internal affairs investigation after discovering Kurker’s report did not address the allegations of sexual harassment, which was the reason town counsel advised the selectmen to meet on the topic in the first place.
According to Horn, the policy of the town of Mendon and the Mendon Fire Department requires all instances of sexual harassment be investigated.
Horn noted in his background report, “Despite numerous assertions of sexual harassment and/or hostile workplace environment, by Town Administrator Kimberly Newman, and concerns appropriately raised by town counsel. The Report (the independent investigation results) was devoid of any findings related to sexual harassment.” He also noted that during the January 20 open Board of Selectmen meeting Newman stated, “You’re assuming the only allegation here is sexual in nature.”
Horn’s investigation found; “Newman was not subject to sexual harassment by Zarella” that “Zarella’s conduct did not have the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, humiliating or sexually offensive work environment for Newman” and “Zarella’s conduct did not unreasonably interfere with Newman’s work performance and did not alter the terms and conditions of Newman’s employment.”
In response to the finding by Kurka that Zarella sullied Newman’s reputation, Horn found,”Zarella was acting in his protected capacity as Union President, therefore he has substantial rights to “protected speech” under Mass General Law Ch 150E.”
Included in Horn’s Findings were (full report linked below)
- A Mendon Libary Technician said Reil and Newman emerged from a storage closet and were “chatty, giggly, and happy.”
- An employee stated he was asked by people at Dunkin Donuts “If I heard or knew of if the Town Administrator was dating the Chairman of the Board of Selectmen”
- Several town employees stated they were not aware of the rumor
- One highway employee stated Zarella made derogatory statements against Newman
- Reil and Newman admit having lunch and attending social gatherings together
Horn said based on the totality of information he found “no evidence in this matter supporting a cause for discipline of Assistant Fire Chief Michael Zarella.”
One would think that this alone was a mess of a story for the town of Mendon but it gets even crazier. Just days after the investigative reports were made public the Town of Mendon voted down Newman’s raise, after the Selectmen had already signed a new contract with Newman.
On Monday, March 21 at a special town meeting the Town voted down Newman’s 34 percent pay increase.
At the meeting Claudia Cataldo put forward a motion to reduce the amount transferred to the Town Administrators Salaries account to zero; the board of selectman had requested a transfer of $14,768 to comply with the terms of Newman’s new contract.
The town ultimately voted in secret ballot to deny the substantial pay increase. The town is now faced with a dilemma of having a signed contract with Newman without the money allocated to fund it.
The Telegram and Gazette reported Mendon Selectman Rich Schofield believes the vote was orchestrated and personal.
“It is my view that what occurred at (Monday) night’s town meeting was a thinly disguised attempt to try to run (Ms. Newman) out of town,” Selectman Richard Schofield wrote in an email. “It was about the most disgusting and transparent thing I’ve seen in my public life in the town of Mendon so far.” – Schofield quoted in Worcester Telegram and Gazette
The T&G also reported Schofield said he will advocate continuing to pay Ms. Newman at the higher rate until the line item runs out.
The Milford Daily News reported Cataldo (who proposed the amendment) expressed the following.
Newman should not receive the raise because she is bound to a three-year contract with a pay rate that was determined by the town’s size and budget. Cataldo said she does not support the selectmen’s decision to grant Newman the raise, because they are “setting a precedent” for future contract negotiations. “This could go on forever,” she said. “Who’s to say in the (Newman’s) next contract, the same thing doesn’t happen.”
And there is still the matter of what Newman and Zarella will do moving forward. Newman’s attorney has hinted of further legal action. Zarella said he will be speaking with his attorney about his next move.