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Commission silent on employee grievance and investigation



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THE NEW COUNTY WEB SITE Home page. (Mellisa Seamans photo) (click for larger version)
January 19, 2012
OSSIPEE— Following advice from an attorney, county commissioners are not releasing any details about a grievance that has been filed by a county employee. Commissioner David Sorensen read from his notes at the commissioner's meeting Jan. 11 and would only say that the employee filed the grievance Jan. 4 against Commissioner Asha Kenney's "conduct."

Because the county commissioners have an internal policy that they will act on any grievance within 10 days, a non-public session was held Jan. 4 and a 2-1 vote went in favor of hiring an attorney to investigate the merits of the grievance and make a report to the commissioners regarding the findings.

Kenney said she voted "no" in that non-public session. She said she agreed with hiring an attorney but disagreed with the commissioner's choice of who that attorney should be. She said that when she was first elected Sorensen had talked about the attorney saying that attorney had defended the county in a suit brought forth by an employee in the past and lost. A large settlement was paid out and Sorensen cautioned her "never to use" the attorney again. Sorensen denied he told Kenney that.

In any event, the commissioners voted to hire the attorney. Commissioners would not tell the audience at the meeting who the attorney is.

Kenney, typically says very little at the weekly meetings except for the period on the agenda when commissioners approve the prior meeting's minutes. But at the Jan. 11 meeting she was very vocal and her concerns were supported by a very boisterous Steve Brown of Wakefield, a regular attendee at the county meetings. Both demanded to know why the commissioners would hire an attorney who had lost a case in the past and raised concern over the fact it appears "someone is leaking out information from non-public sessions."

Under the state's Right-To-Know Law, complaints or other matters concerning elected officials are not protected and should be held in a public forum. Commissioner Sorensen cautioned, however, the sensitive nature of this issue because employee rights and expectation of privacy has to be respected as well. Sorensen said he asked the employee who filed the grievance to respond, in writing, as to whether or not they wish to have their grievance aired in the public forum. As of the Jan. 11 meeting, commissioners had not received a response so it is remaining a non-public issue.

Kenney accused the commissioners of showing preferential treatment to this employee's grievance and "running out and hiring an attorney" when other complaints brought by employees have not garnered such a response. Sorensen said this case is different since the employee has filed a grievance, not just voiced a complaint or written an anonymous complaint and dropped it in the suggestion box at the county complex. He reiterated several times that this attorney was hired to investigate the grievance. Once that is complete, the commissioners will know if a next course of action is required or if there is nothing more to pursue. He added the main reason for hiring outside help to investigate is the obvious conflict of interest that would occur if he and Solomon were to try to investigate the claim against Kenney.

Sorensen and Commissioner Dorothy Solomon confirmed that this is the first grievance they have received from an employee regarding the actions of Kenney. They agreed they did receive a complaint about Kenney last year and consulted with an attorney in case that complaint grew to the grievance level. It did not. Because the meeting is considered under attorney-client privilege, commissioners do not intend to release any minutes or information regarding that complaint.

Other commission news

After months of planning, designing, and training, the county's Web site has been completely revamped. The Web site address, www.carrollcountynh.net, is the same. The new site has easily accessible meeting minutes dating back to 2008 as well as descriptions and contact information and a calendar of events for all county departments.

With a settlement reached between the county and the contractor that built the jail, the expansion joints on a jail wall will be repaired. Requests for bids have been published in several media outlets as well as the Dodge Report. The next step, currently in progress, is trying to negotiate a settlement with the contractor for replacement of all caulking around the jail windows with "unpickable putty".

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