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Grievance investigation has racked up $13,000 in legal fees

May 10, 2012
OSSIPEE — Carroll County Commissioners were set to meet with attorneys yesterday, May 9, after press deadline, to discuss the findings of an investigation into the grievance filed by an employee against Commissioner Asha Kenney.

Back on Jan. 11, Commissioner David Sorensen announced the grievance had been filed and would only say it was for "conduct."

According to documents obtained from the county complex, it appears the investigation conducted by Atty. Daniel P. Schwarz of the Portsmouth law firm Jackson Lewis, LLP has been complete since March. This supports Commissioner David Sorensen's frustration that it has taken six weeks to complete the final step of the investigation, a meeting between the three commissioners and the attorney, something he claims is due to Kenney's lack of cooperation.

What is unknown, to date, is what this four-month ordeal will rack up in legal fees and how much of that will be covered by the county's insurance policy. According to county documents obtained this week, the legal cost of investigating the grievance up to April 30 is about $13,100. The billing includes nearly ten hours of attorney time spent interviewing witnesses for the investigation at a rate of $250 per hour and a two and a half hour interview with Kenney on March 16. The documents also reveal research time was spent on review of laws regarding public disclosure of investigation into commissioner's conduct as well as research into the "removal or discipline of a commissioner." March 18 seven hours were spent preparing the investigative report and related exhibits and 1.4 hours were spent reviewing "several emails from Asha Kenney."

Throughout the months this issue has been ongoing, Kenney has maintained that she did nothing wrong and the commissioners have refused to release any other details publicly, citing protection of the employee who chose not to have the issue argued in the public forum.

This reporter has learned from an anonymous but reliable source that the investigating attorney has found the grievance does have merit. Further, at least in part, the grievance stems from a scathing email sent from Kenney to the employee who works in an administrative position. Those close to the investigation maintain that the employee filed the grievance not seeking monetary compensation but rather to call attention and hopefully put an end to Kenney's verbal and written abuse towards employees. It has since come to light that the grievance was filed by the county's human resource director.

At last week's meeting, citizen Steve Brown of Wakefield asked the board, "Is that why you two were in such a hurry to go out and get an attorney to get the human resources director a settlement?" Commissioner Sorensen refused to comment. Kenney did not vote to hire Atty. Schwarz to investigate the grievance because, she said, he lost a case in the past that resulted in the county having to pay out a "big settlement."

In past months, Kenney has accused "someone" of breaking into her locked file cabinet in the business office and stealing papers and has publicly berated "minute-takers" during commissioners meetings, including the human resource director who was recording non-public meeting minutes in the past. "Now that I am taking the minutes they will be done right," Kenney said recently during a discussion about non-public minutes. Kenney serves as the clerk of the commission, responsible for the keeping of the commission documents. The commission is now on its fourth "minute-taker" in two years.

Current employees at the county complex are reluctant to jeopardize their livelihood by going "on the record" to discuss any issues they may have with Kenney or the other commissioners.

Because elected officials and their "conduct" are not protected under the non-public portion of the state's right-to-know law, it is expected that the commissioners will be releasing a report of what prompted the grievance as soon as they clear the matter with their attorney.

Martin Lord & Osman
Salmon Press
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