June 21, 2012OSSIPEE — After months of speculation and of attorney-recommended silence, the public is now getting insight into what brought on the grievance of a former county employee against County Commissioner Asha Kenney.
Robin Reade, the county's first human resources director, resigned her position effective June 1 after holding that position since October 2007. Reade's position was created to take the commissioners out of the job of handling employee-related issues on a day-to-day basis and handing those responsibilities over to someone skilled in employee laws and regulations.
It appears the commissioners, until this year, had a good working relationship with Reade. When he made the announcement at the commissioner's May 23 meeting, Commissioner David Sorensen said of her resignation that he was "really sorry" she made the decision to leave and over the years the commissioners had "counted on her tremendously."
Commissioners have remained tight-lipped since Reade filed a grievance against Kenney dated Dec. 26, 2011 that Sorensen received on Jan. 4, acknowledging only in the public meeting that a grievance had been filed against Kenney for "conduct" and the commissioners proceeded to hire an attorney skilled in employment law to investigate whether or not the grievance had merit and make recommendations on how to proceed. Kenney voted against hiring the attorney. The investigation took several months to complete and cost at least $13,000. Sorensen said at the June 6 meeting that as soon as the final legal tally is calculated, that number will be released to the public.
In an interview last week, Reade decided to unveil supporting documents that she says show a pattern of behavior that Kenney engaged in that caused Reade to finally file a grievance. Reade said it has never been her intention to seek any type of monetary settlement against the county. Her intention in filing the grievance, she said was to "let people know what she (Kenney) is really like. That's enough for me…and to put Kenney on notice that her behavior towards employees won't be tolerated." Reade said it is expected that someone in a human resources position will be thick-skinned. "It's one thing if she (Kenney) attacks management," but if Kenney was allowed to continue on with her negative treatment of employees and decided to go after a regular employee, "that would be very bothersome."
Despite the attorney's recommendation that the grievance remain non-public as it is a personnel issue, Kenney decided to defend herself in a guest commentary in this newspaper last month, saying later that she doesn't need a vote from the commissioners for permission to write or say anything she wants. It is this renegade attitude that Reade says was the basis for the grievance.
In her commentary, Kenney makes several accusations about Reade's work performance, argues the commissioners could have solved the problem internally without hiring an attorney, and says that Reade's grievance was politically motivated because she doesn't get along with Republicans. Reade was an employee of the county, not an elected official. Reade has since revealed that her spouse is a Republican, making Kenney's claim Reade doesn't get along with Republicans "ridiculous." Reade said the guest commentary was typical of Kenney's proven behavior of always deflecting negative attention away from herself and on to others.
For the first year Kenney was in office, said Reade, there were a couple "go-rounds" with Kenney asking for personnel information about employees that Reade was not allowed to share under employee privacy laws and Reade questioned some of Kenney's behavior throughout the year, but just took it as a new official learning the ropes.
In a document trail leading back to May 11, 2011, some of Kenney's behaviors reveal themselves. In an email to commissioners, Reade cautions them against commenting on such things as employees' bathroom habits during public meetings, stating such remarks could lead to employee rights' violations. Kenney fired back, "bathroom habits? Is this a joke? So I need to cut out the truth? Do you know if employees have responsibilities or only rights? Primex needs to come in and give some workshops in ethics, honesty, not stealing, gameplaying, etc."
May 25, 2011 Reade documented a conversation when Kenney visited her office and wanted access to review all employee personnel files at random. Reade says during that conversation she cautioned Kenney about accessing personnel files without a vote of the full board of commissioners. "She asked who gave me authority to withhold information and she asked to see my job description and stated she wanted to see if that was in there and I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. She also stated she wants to see this information because she wants to see what I am hiding. I told her I am not hiding anything but protecting the confidentiality of the employees," said Reade.
Forward to Dec. 26, 2011 in an email sent from Kenney to her fellow commissioners and Reade. The email prints out as two full pages that read like a very long run-on incoherent sentence with only two periods.
Reade said all of the negative interactions with Kenney came to a head with this email. Reade called it "the icing on the cake" and what pushed her to file the official grievance.
A taste of the overall gist of the email reads, "you were so rude so disrespectful make up stuff and said I have no authority you have all the authority and that a previous board gave you all when you were hired I said oke I am new I am learning if you have all the authority show me so I know what I can do and can't, show me paperwork you said you will email it that day I never receive it."
Kenney goes on to accuse Reade eight times of lying, playing games, intimidating her by telling Kenney she needs a vote of the full board to get things done, of lying in the meeting minutes, setting her up, laughing at her, and talking politics in non-public sessions.
Reade responded by filing the grievance. In it she said, "I take an extreme personal affront to the fact that Commissioner Kenney has called me a liar. I would like written documentation of her accusations." In the letter Reade said that on two separate occasions she provided non-public minutes to Sorensen in which "Commissioner Kenney requested I alter the content and remove statements by her that she felt put her in a bad light publicly."
"I have documentation that supports my position and her potentially unlawful actions. This defamation of my reputation as an honest, loyal and dedicated county employee has caused me great personal harm and I expect an immediate rectification of this situation by the Board of Commissioners. Please consider this my official grievance of the unprofessional and potentially unlawful behavior of an elected official towards a county employee," wrote Reade.
The same day it was announced that Reade filed a grievance; a personnel file belonging to Reade's spouse went missing from the commissioner's office, only to suddenly reappear in Sorensen's desk drawer weeks later. In the commentary Kenney wrote in this newspaper last month, she states that she did review files but never took anything out of the office. Reade said this instance was just the beginning of apparent retaliation against her for filing the grievance. In a letter to commissioners, Reade states, "What I find ironic is that my spouse's file went missing from the county, an employee Commissioner Kenney happens to have ties to knew all of the details of that file, and actually wrote a letter to the Commissioners and I believe that is the email you (Kenney) sent to the delegation only seven members initially. My question is how does an employee, I know nothing about knows details of my personal and human resources-related issues at work. Those issues are confidential no matter who they are!" This reporter has filed a right-to-know request with the commissioners asking for a copy of the email from an employee who no longer works for the county to Kenney that was then forwarded to the delegation as well as several other documents.
In February, Kenney sent an email to a former county employee asking that employee if they have any information against a current county employee.
In April, Kenney sent a press release to another newspaper that was apparently never published. That two-page document does not name an author but lists Kenney as the contact person. The release is titled "Can being rude get your coworker a settlement? Carroll County Harassment Policy is a Harassment of the Constitution." Reade wrote the harassment policy with the assistance of the county's insurer Primex and it was approved by the board of commissioners. The policy was last updated, according to a copy received, in July 2009. There is no indication that Kenney discussed her concerns or submitted them in writing to her fellow commissioners; rather it appears they received a copy of the press release. In her message to the editor of the newspaper she sent it to, Kenney says, "Any settlements given out under this policy should be looked at…you may want to see if anyone involved in the creation of this policy has then sought or obtained a settlement for themselves or their spouse."
Throughout these months, the attorney investigating the grievance finished up his work and met with the commissioners regarding the outcome of the investigation, advising them to release nothing to the public. Additionally, Reade was not included in the meeting and does not expect that she will be receiving a copy of the final report.
What she got was an unsigned letter on commissioner's stationary dated May 14 informing her that the investigation is complete and that she will not be retaliated against in any way.
It goes on to say, "The Board is committed to providing you and all county employees with a professional work environment. To the extent you and Commissioner Kenney have experienced challenges in your communications with one another, the Board wants to resolve this issue and ensure that your mutual communications are professional and effective. Although it is unrealistic to expect that Commissioner Kenney and you will not have face-to-face communications as you both perform your respective functions forth County, going forward Commissioner Kenney will endeavor to direct substantive communications to you via email and such emails will be professional and courteous in tone. To the extent that Commissioner Kenney requests information, please let her know when you anticipate you will be able to provide her with a response."
It was just three days later when Kenney's newspaper commentary appeared blasting accusations at Reade. And with that, Reade submitted her resignation May 21.
Reade, once nominated by her peers as the NH Human Resources Administrator of the Year writes, "In the events of the last six months after filing this grievance I have found that I am not able to do my job due to the actions of Commissioner Kenney. The board has taken away my ability to do my job by letting Commissioner Kenney's behavior continue and not acting on any of the issues brought forth. This board continues to let her behave in a manner that is unprofessional and unethical. This whole situation has caused an extreme amount of stress to me and my family. I am being forced to resign my position as HR Director, because the board is not able to guarantee continued mistreatment from Commissioner Kenney [will not occur], and you cannot guarantee she will not do any more damage to my professional reputation and my family."
As of press time, the commissioners have the human resources director position advertised, accepting resumes through this month. Attempts to reach any of the commissioners for comment on the newly revealed information were unsuccessful as of press time.