Email outlines employee's charges against Stonington public works director
Stonington — Highway Department employee Daniel Oliverio filed a three-page complaint about his boss, Public Works Director Barbara McKrell, with the town hours after she had a supervisor question him about stopping for a cup of coffee over a townwide radio system.
The complaint that he was being targeted by McKrell is one of a litany of charges that Oliverio made about her in a late-night email he sent April 10 to First Selectman Rob Simmons. The town released a copy of the email to The Day on Monday after the newspaper filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the document.
The complaint is being investigated by town Labor Attorney Meredith Diette. Simmons said Tuesday that the investigation should be completed within 10 days.
Selectmen are scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the police station and Oliverio supporters are once again expected to appear. McKrell did not respond to an email requesting a comment on Oliverio's complaint.
Two weeks ago, more than 75 people, including fired Highway Department Supervisor Louis DiCesare II and his family, packed the police station meeting room April 25 to tell the Board of Selectmen they support Oliverio. Many speakers praised the dedication, friendly attitude and hard work of Oliverio.
In his complaint, Oliverio said that after he finished a street-sweeping job on Masons Island, he stopped the dump truck he was driving at the Dunkin Donuts shop next to True Value on Route 27 to get a coffee about 2 p.m., which he said employees often do each day about that time. He said that when he got back to the highway garage, highway foreman Tim Keena called him over the radio and “said there was some question about what time I took a coffee break today and asked me what time I took the break.”
Oliverio told him 9 a.m. because that was when he had stopped at the Dunkin Donuts in Route 1 in Mystic and someone had thrown what appeared to be milk on his truck and he assumed the highway department was going to file a police report about it.
He said Keena then apologized for calling over the radio but said "someone at Town Hall was complaining about me being at the coffee shop.”
Oliverio said Keena told him he was told not to use a cellphone but to use the radio, which can be heard by various town agencies. According to Oliverio, another employee said Keena had told him McKrell was adamant about using the radio when Keena asked if she was sure she wanted to broadcast the question over the radio.
Oliverio said he then called McKrell, who then asked if he was at the coffee shop at 2 p.m. He said he was and she asked why. Oliverio said he told McKrell it was in the highway department contract that workers get two 10-minute breaks each day and McKrell said she did not realize that was in the contract.
Oliverio then asked McKrell if he was the only person she was tracking on the GPS system that monitors the location and movement of highway department vehicles or if she was watching everybody. McKrell, who Simmons has praised for installing the GPS systems last year to improve efficiency and safety, said she was not looking at the GPS.
When Oliverio questioned why McKrell had Keena call him over the radio, she said she had told employees the previous day she did not want them using cellphones except during breaks and at lunch. But Oliverio said “the bosses” usually call employees if they can’t reach them on the radio or have a quick question.
He said using a cellphone to ask a non-emergency questions makes more sense than tying up a townwide service.
“Certainly knowing what time I had break that day did not need to be broadcasted throughout town in such a way that it could appear I had done something wrong. The last thing I stated to Barbara was that I feel as if I am being targeted here because of the outcome of the Lou DiCesare case because I am friends with him,” Oliverio wrote. He said McKrell told him she would not comment on his charge and the conversation ended.
An arbitrator recently overturned an earlier suspension of fired highway department supervisor DiCesare, who had filed a grievance because he was denied union representation at a hearing with McKrell. The town faces two more grievances and a federal lawsuit filed by DiCesare, who was fired in 2015. Through mid-February, the town had spent $265,000 in legal fees on the cases and its insurance company another $76,000.
Oliverio said that when McKrell typically has a message for an employee, she has a supervisor deliver it in person or by phone. He said that when McKrell recently saw an employee stop for coffee at Starbucks in Mystic on the way to pick up two dump trucks in Bridgeport, she had Keena speak to the employee later and tell the employee not to do it again.
Oliverio said the employee “was not called out over the Town-wide radio.”
He said that while he understands McKrell is entitled to ask about his whereabouts during the work day and about the coffee break, doing so over the radio was “unprofessional and embarrassing.”
“Why was I not given the same courtesy of being asked about it upon my return to the garage? Instead I was asked where everyone could hear and assume I was getting into trouble for doing something I should not have been doing, which is far from the case,” Oliverio wrote to Simmons.
Oliverio said the incident, in addition to others, makes him feel like he is being singled out for discipline.
Among his other complaints was that when McKrell was first hired in 2014, she tried to discipline him for an accident that had happened many months before she arrived and for which he already had attended additional training.
He said McKrell told him he was insubordinate for taking a personal day to attend a class that was only being offered at that time.
He said McKrell initially told him he could not have the tree warden’s job, as she was giving it to Highway Supervisor Tom Curioso. Simmons later named Oliverio as tree warden. Oliverio resigned two weeks ago.
After Oliverio, who co-chairs the towns Beautification Committee, discussed a complaint about weeds along Route 2 at a committee meeting, he said McKrell assigned him to go alone to cut the weeds, which he said was an unsafe assignment due to rain and being on a state road.
He told Simmons he also feels like he was being targeted and watched due to his friendship with former Selectman Mike Spellman, who McKrell charged with harassment after Spellman questioned her about the use of pesticides on high school athletic fields.
Oliverio also claims McKrell has removed him from jobs he enjoys and had done in the past “as a way to mess with me or upset me.” He said it is “a known fact” at the Highway Department that McKrell does not like him and fellow employees joke that they would not be disciplined for something Oliverio would be disciplined for. He said he continues to feel “he’s being watched to find something I do wrong so that I can be disciplined for it.”
“I take pride in my job and my work and I am tired of feeling like this. I just want to be able to do my job. I have come to the conclusion that no matter what I do to prove myself as a person and hardworking employee will never change her feelings toward me. That is fine with me. I will continue to work hard and be proud of the job I do. I will be able to maintain professionalism but I should not be the only one doing so,” he wrote.
The Day also requested copies of all grievances filed by highway department employees since Jan. 1, 2016. Of the nine that were filed, two were filed solely on behalf of Oliverio.
One related to “untimely discipline” and the other was for an “unjust written warning.” No details of the alleged incidents were provided.
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