Stonington dismisses employee's complaints about public works director

Stonington — Highway Department employee Dan Oliverio said Thursday that the town’s 2-month-long investigation into his allegation that he is being unfairly targeted by Public Works Director Barbara McKrell did not substantiate the charges he made.

Oliverio said Thursday night that the report did not criticize any action by the town.

“In my opinion, I felt the criticism (in the report) was focused on me,” he wrote in an email to The Day.

Asked about his reaction to the report, Oliverio said, “I love my job and just want to be able to do it without feeling targeted, worried or stressed. It was necessary for me to bring forth the issues that I did so they can be addressed through proper channels. Regardless of what the report says, I will continue to do the best on any assignment I am given, as I do currently.”

First Selectman Rob Simmons announced Wednesday night that the 27-page investigation report of the complaint, compiled by town Labor Attorney Meredith Diette, had been completed. He said he had read it and McKrell had been given a copy to read. He said a copy would be made available to Oliverio on Thursday.

Oliverio said he was allowed to view the report on Wednesday but could not obtain a copy. He said the town told him he would need to file a state Freedom of Information Act request to obtain a copy. Oliverio said Thursday night he would do that so he could read it more thoroughly and then he and his family will decide if a response is warranted and, if it is, how best to respond.

On Wednesday afternoon, The Day filed a Freedom of Information Act request for a copy of the report. When asked Wednesday night if a copy would be given to the newspaper on Thursday, Simmons said he would discuss doing so with Director of Administrative Services Vin Pacileo. Simmons was out of town Thursday and Pacileo said a copy would be made available to The Day on Monday.

At Wednesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, former First Selectman Don Maranell criticized a previous comment made by Simmons in which he said he had edited a draft of the report submitted by Diette and sent it back to her for revisions. “I don’t know why are you editing a professional work product we payed someone $250 an hour to produce,” Maranell said. “I hope we see the unadulterated report.”

Maranell also referred to Simmons’ editing of a report that analyzed the operations of the town that the town hired a consultant to do last year. That report was in part critical of McKrell and some of those criticisms were removed from the final report the town released after Simmons had edited it. Simmons maintained the consultant’s submission was a draft and declined to release it. The town eventually released the original report with the McKrell criticisms to the Day after the newspaper filed a Freedom of Information Act complaint against the town and a hearing officer recommended that the state Freedom of Information Commission order the town to release the original report because it was not a draft.

Maranell also criticized the town for taking so long to complete the report. Simmons, though, has said Diette interviewed all 18 Highway Department employees as well as Oliverio, McKrell and Highway Supervisor Tom Curioso, twice each.

Over the past two months, large groups of residents have spoken at selectmen’s meetings in support of Oliverio and criticized McKrell. Last month Simmons said the town would not be disciplining Oliverio after McKrell complained that he used his cellphone while driving a town truck and when not on a paid break.

Oliverio made numerous charges against McKrell in an April 10 email he sent to Simmons and alleges she has unfairly targeted him for discipline. He sent the email hours after he said she had a supervisor question him over a townwide radio system about his stopping for a cup of coffee. He said she did this to embarrass him in front of his fellow employees. He also charged she is targeting him for his support of fired highway supervisor Lou DiCesare, who is suing the town in federal court.

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 from that position 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.”

j.wojtas@theday.com

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