BUCKFIELD — Former Zadoc Long Free Library Director Bonnie Santos is contesting her firing by Buckfield Town Manager Cindy Dunn and her lawyers posit the termination was unlawful.
On Jan. 21, Dunn fired Santos of West Minot, and the reasons have not been publicly. Santos is represented by David Webbert and Carol Garvan of Johnson, Webbert & Young of Augusta. According to Webbert, Dunn gave Santos a four-page letter with her reasons for the termination, but did not initially give Santos an opportunity to respond on the matter.
“The town has admitted it has broke its own rules,” Webbert said about the town’s Personnel Policy. “We hope in light of that we’re going to make things right.”
He is referring to a Feb. 2 letter from Dunn to Santos, which included a copy of the documents in Santos’ personnel file she requested, and informing Santos she had five business days to submit her documents to contest the termination. The deadline was 5 p.m., Feb. 10, and the five business days time frame is part of the Personnel Policy.
“I am not admitting I did not follow procedure. Based on the process I didn’t know this specific employee was eligible for that. After the town’s attorney reviewed the section of that, he suggested I allow that employee that time [to submit documentation],” Dunn said, adding she immediately sent out a letter to Santos after receiving town attorney John “Jack” Conway’s recommendation.
“I am not aware of any correspondence that said things have been done incorrectly from the town,” said Conway, who works for Linnell, Choate & Webber in Auburn. He added that is likely the argument Santos’ lawyers are making.
On Jan. 31, Selectboard Chairman Warren Wright called an emergency meeting where selectmen, Dunn and Conway met in executive session to discuss the process of firing Santos.
Then on Feb. 8, Webbert sent a letter by mail and an email to Conway requesting an extension of the Feb. 10 deadline by two weeks, or preferably 30 days, to submit Santos’ documentation because she is recovering from surgery.
“They knew she was about to have surgery right before they terminated her employment,” Webbert said, adding he has not heard back on the extension request.
“I haven’t seen any request to submit information,” Conway said.
Webbert said he also sent a separate document explaining his position on the termination being unlawful. In summary, he posits Santos’ termination violated the town’s Personnel Policy, the Maine Human Rights Act, including the right to medical leave, the Maine Whistleblowers’ Protection Act, the Maine Family Medical Leave requirement law and the federal constitutional right to due process. He said he has not received a response back for that either.
Dunn confirmed she received this document from Webbert.
“I think it’s wise not to comment at this moment in time,” she said, noting this is in attempt to protect Santos’ privacy.
“I am learning after the fact once you terminate that’s not the end of it,” Dunn added, noting this was her first termination as town manager.
Santos has been employed with Buckfield since August 2010, first as assistant library director and then as library director. Webbert said Santos was promoted to library director in 2014.
“She had zero discipline in her personnel file. She was there seven years,” he said.
The town’s Personnel Policy has a section on termination of employment.
It states, “The last and most serious Step in the progressive discipline procedure is to terminate employment. Generally, the Town will try to exercise the progressive nature of this policy by first providing warnings, final written warning and/or suspension from the workplace before proceeding to terminate employment. However, the Town reserves the right to combine and skip Steps depending upon the circumstances of each situation and the nature of the offense. Furthermore, employees may be terminated without prior notice or disciplinary action.”
At last week’s selectmen’s meeting, Selectman Maida DeMers-Dobson expressed concern that the town’s Personnel Policy did not allow for due process and selectmen voted 2-1 to send the Personnel Policy to Maine Municipal Association’s Human Resources Department for review. DeMers-Dobson and Wright voted for the review and Selectman Mike Iveson voted against.
DeMers-Dobson also voiced concerns that the advisory Library Committee – which was formerly the Library Trustees before the town took on the library as a full-fledged department in 2015 – has too much power. In October 2016, she tried to go into executive session so Santos could discuss some of the issues, but Dunn told DeMers-Dobson it did not qualify for executive session.
Webbert said Santos has not been invited to any selectmen’s meetings to discuss her termination and has been directed to give her documentation to Dunn, which Dunn confirmed.
Assistant Library Director Katie Clukey was named interim library director after Santos was terminated. Dunn said tentatively Clukey is interim director and she is on a probationary period with the possibility of promotion to library director.
“If it doesn’t work out, then the town will be advertising for the position,” Dunn said.
Since part of Webbert’s argument is the town admitted it prematurely terminated Santos, he hopes to remove the termination from her record.
“That would be something important,” he said. “We have to figure out whether going back to work makes sense, but certainly a respectful dialog would hopefully lead to a peaceful solution for everybody.”
Dunn said the documents she received from Webbert have been forwarded to the town’s insurance carrier, Keyes Insurance.
“Recommendations and decision making – I am leaving it up to the insurance company, as I should, and up to the attorneys,” Dunn said.
Webbert said he hopes to hear back from the town regarding both correspondences sometime this week.