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    Wednesday, August 17, 2022

    Stonington workers should be disciplined

    Stonington highway workers who admitted to planting syringes at Donahue Park in Pawcatuck are not going to win Employee of the Year awards any time soon.

    But just as disturbing as their prank – which included posting photos on Facebook to imply the park is a haven of drug-users – is the town's decision to take no action against the two offenders.

    Claiming no policy existed that could be applied to the situation, First Selectwoman Danielle Chesebrough ruled after an investigation that they could not be disciplined. So in response ,the town created a policy that spells out what employees should do if they find a syringe.

    This literal reading of human resources policies defies logic and common sense.

    Public Works employees Patrick Keena and Daniel Oliverio can be seen on surveillance video April 27 carrying a plastic bottle filled with syringes and placing some on the gazebo's floor and on a railing. Oliverio is shown taking pictures of the tableau, which were later sent to Chris Donahue, a member of the school board and the son and grandson of the park's namesakes, who in turn posted them on his Facebook page.

    The only one on this video who appears to be working is an unidentified man with a leaf blower on his back, who motions to the surveillance camera in apparent disapproval.

    The men later claimed they had found the needles in a nearby mulch bed and other locations downtown. It was never proven if the syringes actually contained illegal drugs.

    So, for the benefit of town supervisors, let's unpack what exactly is wrong with this picture.

    If in fact these men did find syringes, they should have alerted police as to where they found them, instead of staging evidence in the park as a way of making some point.

    Keena told police he was “pissed off” about syringes in the park and that Donahue is one of his best friends.

    He also claimed he was not trying to disrespect police, who have made a concerted effort to make the park safe for the public. He said there was no policy requiring him to report his find to the police.

    Oliverio told police that he believed that if he reported the issue, nothing would be done.

    So both men took matters into their own hands and manipulated reality to create a fictitious problem, undermining public safety efforts in the process.

    And the kicker: They did this on town time, when they should have been blowing leaves or raking mulch.

    Of course there is no human resources policy against “finding syringes and planting them somewhere.”

    But any good policy manual requires workers to act in a way that does not bring discredit to the town; to act in the public interest; and to spend their working hours actually working.

    The Public Works Department “is an integral part” of all town services, according to the town of Stonington web page, achieving its goals through “the labor and commitment that our highly skilled employees put into their jobs every day.”

    We'd like to think that most Public Works employees uphold that mission, like the gentleman with the leaf blower, who had the good sense not to get involved in this fiasco.

    Oliverio and Keena's misguided actions cast a shadow over all the hard-working employees in town. They created a false sense of danger in the park, implied that police aren't doing anything to solve the problem, and when called on it responded with rationalizations.

    At the very least, they were goofing off, behavior that should warrant a reprimand or warning.

    But the town doing nothing sends the wrong message – that workers can engage in any behavior they want, so long as the offense isn't explicitly spelled out in town regulations. Honesty should be a foundational requirement of any employee that requires no explanation.

    Taking action would send a better message – that the town will not tolerate any behavior that undermines its central mission of serving taxpayers honestly, fairly and without favor.

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