Stonington releases 2009 document outlining complaint against first selectman

Stonington - A former Human Services employee complained to the town in 2009 that First Selectman Ed Haberek's interactions with her left her feeling "creeped out" and "gross."

In a three-page complaint dated Sept. 4, 2009, Alicia O'Neill chronicled a series of events in which she alleged that on a number of occasions, the married Haberek would repeatedly stare at her in a Pawcatuck bar, make continued remarks about how good she looked after losing weight and talk about her to his neighbors, who are mutual friends. She then told the friends not to share her personal information with Haberek.

She said that one day, Haberek told her he chose what computer training class he was going to sign up for based on who was enrolled and that he had seen her name on the list for the session he had selected.

"At this point I was aggravated and creeped out and wondering why would he be saying something like that? I asked myself if it made him feel cool and hip? I don't know but it was again inappropriate and unnecessary," she wrote.

The town released a copy of O'Neill's complaint Wednesday, a year after The Day initially requested it. The Day appealed to the Freedom of Information Commission, which in July ordered the town to release the document. On Tuesday, Selectmen George Crouse and Glee McAnanly voted to comply with the order and release the complaint.

In the complaint, O'Neill said Haberek also told her she would be a great fit for the soon-to-be vacant recreation administrator's job and that he would put in a good word for her if she wanted the position.

And when a position became available in Haberek's office, she said he asked her if she was happy in her current job and with the people she was working with.

"It just made me feel as though he was looking for something but what, I have no idea," she wrote.

In her complaint, she said her interactions with Haberek began when he ran for first selectman. She said he would come with his family into the business where she worked and ask how she was doing.

"I felt it was weird when on few occasions he would pop back in and give me more of a tip but I would always just say thank you," she wrote.

She said things became different when she would see him out at CC O'Brien's bar and he would stare, even though she was with her boyfriend.

She said "the last straw" came on Aug. 21, 2009, after she had notified the town that she would be resigning in November because she was moving to California.

Haberek sent her an email thanking her for her hard work and offering to write her a letter of reference. She accepted, she said, because she did not want to be disrespectful.

It was the last day celebration for children and staff in the town's summer recreation program. O'Neill was wearing a bathing suit and shorts because she was in the dunking booth.

She said Haberek showed up and thanked her for doing such a great job.

"At this point he gave me a hug which I hesitated but the hug happened. A this point (I) looked around to see who was around because I was so put off and wasn't quite sure why he felt the need to do that and especially at the playground program with the kids all around. What made it worse for me was that I was in my one piece bathing suit and shorts on and I just felt so gross after. I was a nervous wreck about what parents if any were around and how they or my staff would perceive something like that."

Then, before Haberek left, she said he hugged her again and said he was working on "a great letter of reference" for her.

Haberek, who has described the contact as a "gracious tap on the shoulder to say good luck," had not been invited to the event.

"My thought was he never stopped by at any other time the whole entire summer. Why would he be stopping by now? None of it made sense but I just dealt with it the best I could and just wanted him to leave and was relieved when he did," O'Neill wrote.

According to a chronology prepared by former Administrative Services Director George Sylvestre, 18 minutes after he informed Haberek of O'Neill's complaint on Sept. 9, Haberek said he had reviewed the complaint with his wife and attorney and "they would be initiating their personal lawsuit."

He asked Sylvestre not to send the letter of recommendation that he said O'Neill had asked for. When Sylvestre told him he had nothing to do with the letter, Haberek said he would not stand by it and asked Sylvestre to tell O'Neill not to use it.

On Sept. 25, Haberek's attorney, Salvatore Ritacco of Pawcatuck, wrote a letter to the town requesting the O'Neill matter be kept confidential.

He warned Sylvestre that if either O'Neill or Sylvestre's office disseminated the complaint or made defamatory statements about Haberek, he would file a lawsuit.

On Sept. 29, Haberek wrote a letter to O'Neill that he called his "formal and unequivocal apology."

He said he wanted to meet with her, Sylvestre, Ritacco and a guest of her choosing.

"Although your letter does not raise any claims of sexual harassment or discrimination, I do have a personal conflict with the allegations," he wrote, adding later, "Again, I am sorry for the stance you have taken and hope to explain my position. Please allow me the opportunity to speak to you."

That meeting never took place, according to O'Neill.

On Oct. 30, 2009, O'Neill withdrew the complaint, saying she did not want to pursue any further action against Haberek. There is no action the town could have taken against Haberek as there is no provision in the town charter or state law to discipline him.

"The reason for my complaint was to make Mr. Haberek aware that I felt his behaviors were inappropriate and made me feel uncomfortable. Mr. Haberek had asked to meet with me and I didn't respond because I didn't feel comfortable doing so and also I didn't feel it was necessary," she wrote to Sylvestre.

In an email Wednesday, Haberek reiterated remarks he made at Tuesday's Board of Selectmen meeting in which he said no discriminatory conduct occurred and the state Freedom of Information Commission found nothing in the records released by the town that revealed allegations of sexual misconduct or improprieties.

He said all of the incidents described "by this employee's interpretations over five years ago all transpired in public domain in the presence of my wife and children, highway personnel and/or staff to witness." He said "he acknowledged an apology and explanation offered by this employee at a public event I was at a year later" and that she even reapplied for her job.

O'Neill testified under oath before a Freedom of Information Commission hearing officer this summer that although she withdrew the complaint, the allegations she made against Haberek were true.

O'Neill's allegations were never investigated by the town, as she withdrew her complaint before that could take place.

Also released Wednesday was a report from former Human Services Director Beth Stewart, who refers to O'Neill's complaint as "sexual harassment."

In it, she said O'Neill told her that she decided to file the complaint because "she does not want any woman to experience the discomfort she had felt by the undesirable attention."

Stewart said she had reported O'Neill's discomfort "as well as other female staff complaints to me due to the First Selectman's past behaviors and statements in their presence to George Sylvestre over the course of the past year."

In April 2009, seven department heads including Sylvestre and Stewart filed a written complaint against Haberek, citing his "demeaning and intimidating behavior towards employees" and that "inappropriate remarks particularly in regards to gender, have resulted in feelings of discomfort."

The town and Haberek have also been sued by Pawcatuck resident Tracy Swain, who has accused Haberek of sending her sexually explicit photos of himself using his town-issued BlackBerry in 2010. In a sworn deposition, Haberek admitted that he sent Swain an explicit photo of another man using his home computer.

j.wojtas@theday.com
Twitter: @joewojtas

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