Letter from Troy selectmen cans employees, invites them to reapply for jobs

Letter from Troy selectmen cans employees, invites them to reapply for jobs
By Sierra Hubbard Sentinel Staff Aug 29, 2018

 

TROY — After the N.H. Department of Labor recently cited the town, its water and sewer department and its library on more than 150 violations, selectmen sent out a letter terminating any workers who had not submitted employment verification paperwork.

Those employees were invited to reapply for their positions with the proper documentation, the letter said. But the notice caused anxiety among those who received it, according to the town’s library director, and it has highlighted an ongoing dispute in Troy that helped prompt the state’s inspection in the first place.

Though an exact number of letter recipients was unavailable by press time, selectmen Chairman Richard H. Thackston 3rd said they’re mostly part-time workers.

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Thackston said the reapplication process falls “in the category of a formality,” and the town has not posted any job openings as a result of the terminations.

The move follows the recent state inspection, which found 161 labor violations between the town, its water and sewer department, and the Gay-Kimball Library.

The labor department’s report states the inspection began June 11 and examined documents dating back to June 1 of last year. The department inspected the records of 62 employees, which includes full-time, part-time and seasonal workers.

Thackston posted the inspection report on Facebook on July 20, just hours after the state inspector debriefed selectmen. The library staff also posted the report on its Facebook page.

Many of the violations are related to missing or incomplete documentation and are tallied per employee. The report states 54 employees, including all seven at the library, had no documentation on file verifying their identity and employment eligibility, such as an I-9 form or a copy of their driver’s license.

In July, Thackston told The Sentinel most of the violations in the report occurred before he was elected in March, but he believes a big part of the problem was a lack of modernization.

“I don’t think any one person is to blame,” he said at the time. “I think the way the town approached the management of its personnel — they never really updated how they handled it.”

No longer a Troy employee

At the board of selectmen’s Aug. 16 meeting, Thackston announced that employees who had not submitted their paperwork would receive a letter of termination.

No vote was taken in the public session of the meeting. Thackston told The Sentinel he believes selectmen voted to send the letters in a nonpublic session that same night, although, he said, “I could be wrong on that.”

He cited New Hampshire’s Right to Know law, which says matters that “would likely affect adversely the reputation” of anyone, besides selectmen, may be discussed in nonpublic sessions.

Attached to the minutes is a template for the letter, which states: “Effective immediately, employee: (blank space) is no longer a Town of Troy employee.” The letter references the recent labor department inspection and explains that the town cannot employ people without the proper documentation.

“You are certainly welcome to reapply for the position you held but the town will need you to have proper identification and an employee packet completed,” the letter template states.

Thackston told The Sentinel the town has since sent notification to all employees who were missing paperwork and has made efforts to track down the required documentation. After the inspection, most workers who needed to submit paperwork did, he said.

“That letter was sent out, for lack of a better term, (to) the stragglers,” Thackston said.

He said he didn’t know exactly how many letters were sent, but estimated it was at least a dozen.

“In a small town, it works as a community and a joint effort,” Thackston said. “… None of these jobs are things where they do it because it’s their job. They’re doing it because they want to be part of the community.”

But a few who hadn’t submitted paperwork as of Friday are involved with elections in Troy, Thackston noted — and it could be problematic if the documents aren’t turned in before the Sept. 11 primary or November’s general election.

In response to a right-to-know request for copies of the letters, Deputy Town Clerk Ralph Heald referred the matter to the selectmen’s office.

Thackston said the selectmen’s administrative assistant is on vacation this week, and no one else could fulfill the request in the meantime. He also said the town doesn’t have copies of the letters, only the template, and no compiled list of the employees that were terminated exists.

A dispute over library staff

Catherine Callegari is the director of Gay-Kimball Library in Troy. Though Thackston initially said the termination letters were not sent to the library’s seven employees, Callegari said they all received the letter in the mail early last week.

“It was unfortunate, the anxiety that that letter caused my staff,” she said. “… I just told them, ‘Just throw it away.’ It doesn’t affect us.”

As for the discrepancy, Thackston said that if termination letters were sent to the library staff, selectmen are not making any attempt, at this point, to enforce it.

Callegari asserted that selectmen lack the authority to do so anyway, on the grounds that the library’s staff aren’t town employees.

Nevertheless, she said, all library employees have turned in their paperwork and complied with the labor department’s requirements.

A disagreement over the library’s autonomy was the impetus for the inspection this summer, stemming from a months-long debate between the selectmen and the library’s board of trustees.

After selectmen did not release funds to the library for pay increases the trustees approved earlier this year, trustee Chairwoman Jacqueline Sendrowski filed a complaint with the Department of Labor, Callegari said in July.

The inspection report indicates the town retroactively paid the increases July 16.

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Citing state law, Callegari told The Sentinel the library is governed by its elected trustees and exists as a separate entity. Chapter 202-A section 17 of New Hampshire statute says “no employee of a public library shall be discharged or removed from office except by the library trustees.”

Another section of the law states the trustees are responsible for preparing an annual budget indicating how much public money will be needed for the library’s maintenance.

Thackston said he respectfully disagrees with Callegari regarding the employment of library staff.

“They are paid by the town under the town’s employer identification number. They’re covered under the town’s workmen’s compensation policy,” Thackston said. “… How could you possibly say they’re not town employees?”

Both Thackston and Callegari said the labor department’s inspector verbally agreed with their contradictory understanding of library employees.

Rudolph “Rudy” Ogden, the department’s deputy commissioner, clarified the state’s stance in an email to The Sentinel Wednesday morning, admitting the situation is confusing.

For the labor department’s purposes, Ogden said Troy is considered the employer, and library staff members are town employees.

“This is based upon the fact that payroll and workers’ compensation responsibility lies with the town,” he wrote.

But he emphasized that this pertains to paying employees and maintaining paperwork. Ogden said he isn’t certain how other duties are split between the library and the town, specifically regarding the ability to fire personnel.

Ogden: Town within rights

After the inspection was complete, the labor department sent a letter to the selectmen Aug. 7, detailing the proposed penalties for the violations, many of which prompted only a warning.

But 95 of the 161 violations — including the 54 marks for missing employment documentation — call for fines of $100 each, totaling $9,500 in proposed penalties for the town.

In a phone interview with The Sentinel, Ogden stressed that these fines are proposed and subject to change, especially since the selectmen are arranging an informal conference with the labor department. This is essentially a meeting between the selectmen and a department administrator, during which a town can explain corrective action that’s been taken, and the proposed penalties can be renegotiated.

Ogden said he’s empathetic toward employees who got the letters, adding that the labor department “never likes to see people terminated.” But he said the town is within its rights as an employer.

And as an employer, he said, the town has the responsibility to adhere to state law.

“There is a point that it gets to where an employer, if they’re looking for compliance or if they’re looking for their employees to do something and the employee says, ‘No I’m not doing it,’ then you can get into a situation where the employer chooses compliance,” Ogden said.

Sierra Hubbard can be reached at 355-8546 or at shubbard@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @SierraHubbardKS.