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Efforts to get a grievance investigation report released continue

February 07, 2013
OSSIPEE — Now that he has a vote in the matter, newly-elected County Commissioner David Babson, Jr. does not appear to be letting up when it comes to making sure the public knows what they are paying for.

Babson told this reporter he is not pursuing this issue because he is spiteful. Instead he thinks the voters have a right to know what the results are of the near $20,000 investigation that was launched after Robin Reade, the former county human resources director, filed a harassment complaint against County Commissioner Asha Kenney in December 2011.

Kenney has continuously argued that the investigation findings cannot be released because the entire matter falls under attorney-client privilege. Commissioner David Sorensen has repeatedly stated that the county's legal counsel, Elizabeth Bailey of the law firm Shaheen, Phinney, Bass and Green advises against releasing the results because there are other employees involved whose privacy has to be protected. Babson, as well as members of the media and the general public has argued that the commissioners could release at least the summary of the investigation findings to at least let it be known whether or not Kenney was found at fault. And the commissioners could protect any of the employees simply by redacting their names from the document.

Sorensen and Kenney have seen the report as has former county commissioner Dorothy Solomon while Babson has not. And surprisingly, neither has the complainant Reade. Sorensen has maintained that one reason the commissioners did not want to release the report is because Reade hadn't given her permission. In a new twist, Reade called the county human resources department Jan. 24 and said she wants the commissioners to release the report. According to a memo written by the human resources assistant to Babson conveying the nature of the call she received from Reade, "At approximately 4:35 this afternoon, I received a telephone call from Ms. Robin Reade. She stated the purpose of her call was to ask me to let you know that she would like you, the Commissioners, to release the contents/results of her grievance filed last year. Specifically, Ms. Reade stated, "please tell him to go ahead and release it, all of it. I have no problem with that. At all."

Babson brought up the issue at the Jan 16 and Jan. 30 meetings and promised to call Bailey and bring the matter up again at the Feb. 7 commissioner's meeting.

While the public, and perhaps Babson, might be satisfied with Kenney either admitting she did something wrong or defending herself, neither has happened, and the push for release of the report has continued. Nearly every time the issue has been brought up over the past year, Kenney has claimed attorney-client privilege or tried to deflect attention away from her. At the Jan. 30 meeting, she once again accused Sorensen of entering into the contract with the investigator Atty. Daniel Schwarz of the law firm Jackson Lewis on his own and without consent of the other commissioners. She argues that the findings of the investigation are invalid because Sorensen is the only one that signed the contract. Sorensen argues that, as the chairman, he has authority to sign contracts if a vote of the commission gives him the authority to do so. Sorensen said there was a vote, with two commissioners in favor, of hiring Schwarz. This vote occurred in a non-public session and the minutes of that session have not been released to the public.

"Do you think the fact your contention that it is an illegal contract…we paid the bill, we got the results…why would whether it was an illegal contract at this point make any difference?" Babson asked.

"One single commissioner don't have the authority to sign the contract," responded Kenney. She also accuses Atty. Schwarz of being biased and that it is a clear conflict of interest that he conducted the investigation. She provided no documentation to back up those claims against Schwarz at the Jan. 30 meeting.

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Sorensen asked Kenney and Babson to "think outside the box" and come up with ideas the commissioners should be looking at for the long range planning. Babson agreed to work with the forester to develop plans for managed logging on the county's 900 or so acres. Other ideas that Sorensen had at the Jan. 30 meeting included completion of gardens at the new nursing home and better signage, demolition of the building that used to house livestock on the county farm that is now rotting, an employee recognition program, performance evaluations of all county department heads, creating a central purchasing department, and recruiting volunteers to clean and make improvements to the several old cemeteries that are located on county-owned property. Kenney did not offer to pursue any of the ideas to assist her fellow board members.

Kenney said she left her list at home but did make one recommendation that the county's human resource director be named as the spokesperson for the county. She made a motion to name Janice Sullivan as the only one news reporters should go to if the commissioners are not immediately available. Sorensen and Babson voted against the idea. "I wouldn't do that. I think a Commissioner ought to be the spokesperson for the county and not a county employee because sooner or later it comes back to the commissioners," said Sorensen. "We are elected by the citizens to administer this county and we are the ones that should be making comments to the public. If anybody should be the spokesman it should be the chairman," added Babson.

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