May 31, 2012OSSIPEE —Carroll County Human Resources Director Robin Reade has given her resignation, effective June 1. County Commissioner David Sorensen announced at the commission's May 23 meeting that he found the resignation letter on his desk that morning. The letter has been turned over to the county's legal counsel for review to determine if the resignation letter can be made available to the public.
The resignation comes after months of investigation into a grievance that Reade filed against Carroll County Commissioner Asha Kenney. Sorensen said he is "really sorry" that Reade has made the decision to leave, adding that the commissioners have "counted on her tremendously."
As for the results of the grievance investigation, Sorensen, on advice of the commissioner's attorney, no information about the grievance will be released to the public except for the final cost the taxpayers will be shelling out in legal fees. As of the end of April, that amount totaled $13,000 and will be more. Sorensen said the commissioners will tally the final bills and announce at an upcoming meeting the total cost. Unsure if the matter is going to continue on and be heard in court, Sorensen said, "Whether it is settled in court or not, the attorney fees will be substantial."
Kenney voted against hiring an attorney that specializes in employment law to investigate the merits of the grievance, but was outvoted by Sorensen and Dorothy Solomon. She has hinted that it is the other two commissioners costing the taxpayers money in the rising cost of resolving the grievance, saying in a May 17 guest commentary in this newspaper that the matter could have been settled in-house. In that commentary, Kenney does not name Reade specifically but, according to numerous anonymous and reliable sources, it is clear that is who she is referring to and lists many conflicts she has had with Reade. Despite many requests for an interview, Reade has declined at this time to speak to the press. Sorensen said that typically grievances can be handled through the grievance policy in-house but because this grievance was filed against Kenney, he and Solomon felt it would be a conflict of interest if they handled the investigation.
How the commissioners can withhold information about the grievance as Kenney is an elected official and therefore has no protection under the right-to-know law is under dispute, but it appears likely those records can be kept under lock and key because personnel records are protected under state law. This reporter has filed a second right-to-know request, asking to review the findings of the grievance investigation, or to at least inform the public what Kenney did to cause the employee to file the grievance, if there was confirmed merit to the grievance and what, if any recommendations were made. Within the law, the commissioners have five days to respond, in writing, their reasons for not disclosing documents. Sorensen said protecting Kenney is not the issue but rather protecting the employee(s) that are involved in the grievance. When asked if the employees' names could be redacted and the reported released without revealing their names, Sorensen said the commissioners are acting on the advice of their attorney and releasing only the total cost of the investigation.
According to Ann Rice at N.H. Attorney General's Office, who is not allowed to give any comment that is case-specific, it could be that documents in this case remain sealed and protected from being revealed to the public because they are personnel records, exempt from public disclosure.
Former Carroll County Commissioner Chip Albee raised concerns at the May 23 meeting about how clashes between commissioners and employees could be prevented in the future, hinting in Kenney's direction, and questioning whether or not the commissioners have attended or plan to attend any employer training offered by the county's insurer, Primex.
"Going forward, and we've got a number of years to go, how many more of these situations are we going to run into and how many more investigations are going to happen and how much more money are we going to spend? The idea is to go through some sort of training that we all comport ourselves reasonably and we avoid these sorts of situations and they don't get exacerbated by excessive amounts of reporting in the newspapers," he said. Sorensen said he has attended one of the two harassment policy trainings offered recently by Primex, Commissioner Dorothy Solomon said she has not, and Kenney claimed she knew nothing about any sort of trainings.
Primex, according to Sorensen, has been sent a copy of all documents related to the grievance investigation so they are aware of the situation.
To respond to Albee's concern, Kenney chose again not to publicly take any responsibility or offer any explanation for the grievance but rather deflected attention away from herself, answering simply, "That's why we need a non-union employee handbook where we also have an employee code of conduct."
The handbook has been in the works for months. At a number of commissioner's meetings this year, Reade presented sections of the non-union employee handbook developed by a committee set up for the purpose of drafting the handbook, and the commissioners signed those policies.
Kenney said there have been a number of complaints forwarded by employees at the nursing home to the commissioners and the commissioners have not acted on them. "Many complaints have been waiting for months with legitimate reasons and nothing is happening in the nursing home," she said, arguing that the person or persons filing the complaints followed proper procedure.
Sorensen and Solomon both denied seeing any formal grievances. Sorensen explained there is a grievance policy whereby the employee is to file a formal grievance with their supervisor. If it is not resolved the matter moves on to the nursing home administrator and from there to the commissioners. "There is a difference between a grievance and a note," said Sorensen, adding that he had received e-mails about a possible pending grievance but, to date, has not seen anything formal.
Reade's new assistant, hired earlier this spring, has not been on the job long enough to learn the ropes and take on the director's position, said Sorensen. He said the commissioners will have to meet to discuss Reade's resignation and the next step for filling her position.
Members of the public and the press, in their quest to obtain public county documents, file Right-To-Know requests with the commissioners. Due to the rising increase in requests filed and the time it is taking county employees away from their regular duties, Sorensen said the business office staff is now keeping tracking of the time they spend gathering documents to satisfy the requests. Sorensen said he doesn't mind receiving these requests but they are taking a substantial amount of time for the office staff to fulfill the requests.
So far, he said, the documents have proven that the commissioners are acting above board. "We are not being corrupt at all if that's what people are looking for," he said.
"If they are answered quickly and effectively it gives the public a good view on the county…it doesn't matter how much it costs: it is part of our system," said Ed Comeau.
About a year and a half ago, the Kronos system was installed at the county complex. Employees are assigned swipe cards to use when signing on to the shift and signing out. The electronic system and its accompanying software system was sold as a way to more accurately track work time, overtime, holiday pay, and benefits such as accumulation of sick and vacation time.
At several commissioners' meetings over the past year it has been brought up, most often by Albee or N.H. Rep. David Babson, why the system that reportedly cost $6,000 is installed but not being used.
The answers to their questions have varied including that the system was being used in tandem with the old paper payroll tracking method until the bugs could be worked out, and at last week's meeting, the company who sold the county the system was blamed for not providing the right training.
Representatives from Kronos were contacted Tuesday afternoon and given the link at www.governmentoversite.com to watch the portion of the commissioner's meeting during which their company was discussed. After review they planned to contact this reporter with comment but had not done so as of press time. The question remains whether lack of training and quirks in the technology are completely to blame or, as some county insiders have indicated, if there has been reluctance on the part of county officials or staff to implement the streamlined system.