Terminated UPEC employees return to work after ouster of city officials
Posted On: Apr 13, 2015
From left to right: Ocean Mottley (Staff Attorney), Leslie Fenton, Doug Schmitz (City Administrator), Margi Perotti, Michelle Welsh, and Don Freeman (City Attorney) pose together for a picture after signing settlement agreements.
Two UPEC Local 792 members, Margi Perotti and Leslie Fenton, have returned to work after being put on administrative leave over a year ago and being fired in March of last year based on false allegations of misconduct. As part of their individual settlement agreements they also received full back pay, benefits, attorney’s fees, and costs due to the efforts of the Local’s staff and community involvement.
Sister Perotti worked for the City for 22 years and once received an award for saving the life of a coworker. She has also been a long-term, active member and involved with contract negotiations on the negotiating team. She was formerly the Code Enforcement Officer. Her position was filled, but on return to work January 5th she was reassigned to Community Activities Assistant.
Sister Fenton worked for the City for 16 years. Her former position in the Building and Planning Department was also filled, but she will return to work as the new City Administrator’s administrative assistant. She had been able to gain employment with a local State College, but after giving notice returns to work February 1st. While Margi will return to the bargaining unit, Leslie has been moved to a confidential position currently outside of the bargaining unit, but the Union continues to work to bring her position into the management unit.
Ellis Miller, The UPEC labor representative for Local 792’s South Bay region, which covers Carmel, and Ocean Mottley, the Local’s staff attorney, were responsible for the members’ defense. Ellis jokingly said he was not aware that Carmel employees were represented by the Local because there had never been any problem there since he began working in September 2011. That all changed the following year.
The local newspaper, The Carmel Pine Cone, noted in their November 1, 2013 issue:
Assistant City Administrator Heidi Burch resigned and cleaned out her office in Carmel City Hall this week, and city administrator Jason Stilwell placed two more longtime employees on paid leave, apparently pending investigation into alleged misconduct.
Burch, who became city clerk in 2005 and took over assistant city administrator duties a few years later, told The Pine Cone Thursday she decided to leave the post after city officials redacted dozens of emails requested by the newspaper and said they were being provided under her authority.[…] “without my review, approval or my ability to send them to the city attorney for legal review, as is current city policy.” […]
Former city councilwoman Paula Hazdovac noted Burch was named the city’s Employee of the Year a few years back and also observed that the City of Carmel won the Golden Pine Cone for the Best Place to Work in 2010. Stilwell became city administrator the next year.
Since his arrival in September 2011, at least a dozen employees have either retired, quit, been fired or been placed on paid administrative leave. The latest to join that last group are administrative coordinators Leslie Fenton and Margi Perotti, both longtime city employees, who on Tuesday were placed on paid leave pending investigations into alleged misconduct.
The Pine Cone noted in their November 29, 2013 issue:
Neither [the Mayor or Board Member] would discuss any of the employees who have been placed on paid administrative leave during the past year: IT manager Steve McInchak, whose home was searched by police under the eye of CPD Chief Mike Calhoun and administrative services director Susan Paul in June; his assistant, Rose Franzen; and administrative coordinators Margi Perotti and Leslie Fenton, who worked in the planning and building department until they were placed on leave at the end of October. “The overall finding was the city’s computer system was not protected or secure,” Talmage said. “We’re not going to talk about people.” In the wake of those suspensions, as well as the firings of building official John Hanson and children’s library employee Linda Macdonald, and the disappearance of former deputy city clerk Molly Laughlin from city hall, city officials have been tight-lipped for months.
Leslie Fenton was also accused of releasing public information to the local newspaper, for which the local paper filed a lawsuit against the City. After a full day of hearings to present their case, the City refused to present their forensic analyst or respond to the many discrepancies in the report, which was thousands of pages in length.
After a four-day appeal hearing for Leslie Fenton the former City Administrator Jason Stilwell “resigned,” and his right-hand, Susan Paul, was terminated. Margi Perotti never had an appeal hearing, and it was waived in lieu of a settlement. Both cases have since been settled. The new City Administrator, Doug Schmitz, has written letters of apology welcoming them both back to the City.
Sadly, Steve McInchak, the former IT director for the City, who had also been placed on leave for over a year for related charges, was unable to see the resolution of this affair. He passed away of a heart attack on October 22 of last year. No criminal charges were ever brought against him or Sisters Perotti and Fenton. Steve’s property was returned to him by the police after they closed their year-long investigation with no charges ever being brought. His wife is still engaged in a lawsuit against the City. It is hard to imagine that the stress of these accusations and the way the former City Administrator handled them was not a contributing factor to his early death. He is sorely missed and loved by all from the community.
Sister Rose Franzen, also a UPEC member who had been entangled in these accusations, had also been put on leave but was able to finish out her final year of employment before retirement due to an early settlement with the City. She also passed away this month, and our thoughts are with her. Fortunately, she was able to see her friends and coworkers return to work and the people responsible for their suffering removed from office. But, again, it is hard to imagine that this traumatic affair did not contribute to her death so soon afterwards. She was close with Mr. McInchak and greatly saddened by his death.
A huge part of the success of this campaign was the total involvement of the community. There was a petition signed and protest organized at City Hall asking for the removal of both the Mayor and City Administrator, which led to a hands-on investigation by the City Council and City Attorney, Don Freeman, who had previously been kept in the dark by Stilwell. They did a thorough investigation into the terminations as well as gross overspending by the former City Administrator. Freeman himself helped orchestrate the removal of Stilwell and Paul with the assistance of the new City Administrator, Doug Schmitz, who is returning to that position from a previous service to the City. A local civil rights attorney and friend of Labor, Michelle Welsh, coordinated her efforts with the Local’s attorney. She filed discrimination complaints with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing on their behalf, which have now been dropped as part of the settlement agreement.