Complaint targets Vergennes city manager and clerk
VERGENNES — The Vergennes City Council on Feb. 13 will discuss a formal complaint against City Clerk Joan Devine and City Manager Mel Hawley filed by downtown business owner Shannon Mahoney.
Mahoney outlined her complaint in a Dec. 18 email to Mayor Michael Daniels. It stems from her interactions with Devine and Hawley after she volunteered to organize the placing of lights on the city green this past holiday season, and from her dealings with Devine in the 2016 holiday season regarding alcohol permits for her jewelry story and other businesses.
In emails among the parties that were provided to the Independent Devine and Hawley address the incidents Mahoney cited and state they did nothing wrong.
Still, Mahoney alleges in the conclusion of her one-page complaint that others have had similar problems.
“Joan and Mel make decisions and choices without accountability or consequences,” Mahoney wrote. “In speaking with many businesses and residents in our community there have been countless occurrences of disrespectful and inappropriate behavior by the City Hall employees Mel Hawley and Joan Devine. Everyone gets the same answer when they raise a concern, they will be retiring soon and to not rock the boat.”
Mahoney asks for action from Daniels and the council on Feb. 13.
“I hope that you and the City Council understand the seriousness of the situation and take action to change the behaviors in City Hall,” Mahoney wrote.
Daniels said he could not comment on the complaint, but described how it would be handled.
“Any discussion on the issue will be done in an open meeting,” Daniels said, but added any decision on possible consequences for Hawley and Devine would be made in executive session.
Daniels did confirm he has heard in the past at least informal complaints against Hawley and Devine.
“You can’t always please everybody,” Daniels said. “Not everybody knows the letter of the laws, so somebody sometimes feels they’re not getting good advice or the right advice. Everything I’ve heard of in the past has been worked out once the person has had due process.”
One of the issues Mahoney raises touches both Devine and Hawley. After Mahoney volunteered to organize the lighting of the green she solicited funding from city businesses to support the project, suggesting that they make checks out to her business, Raintree Fine Handcrafted Jewelry.
The co-owner of one business is also Devine’s daughter-in-law, and she called Devine for advice at home, according to Devine, who then suggested her daughter-in-law make a check out instead to the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes. The club had come aboard as a sponsor for insurance purposes.
Mahoney wrote in her complaint, “Joan Devine advised a business as a city employee with incorrect and misleading information. The Boys and Girls Club was not a part of the project to string the lights in the park.”
A Nov. 15 email to Hawley from Mahoney on insurance for the event, with Devine copied, reads: “The Boys and Girls Club has joined up with the local businesses and they are going to be the sponsoring organization for the festivities on the park.” However, Mahoney and other business owners ended up handling logistics, not the club.
In a Dec. 6 email to Mahoney copied to all parties, Devine wrote that when her daughter-in-law called she advised her as a relative to make the check out to the entity Devine believed was the sponsor.
“I suggested she write her check to the Boys and Girls Club as they were the non-profit group sponsoring the event … This discussion with my daughter-in-law had nothing to do with me being a city hall employee — she called her mother-in-law for guidance.”
Mahoney also said once she complained to Hawley and Daniels that Devine had improperly advised a city business that Devine should have been left out of the email loop, but that Hawley kept adding her back into the chain.
“I did not think it was appropriate to have her in the email exchange regarding the situation. It was something to be discussed and handled by her superiors,” Mahoney wrote, also alleging “bullying” and “harassment” by Devine.
Hawley addressed those issues in a Dec. 2 email to Mahoney, again copied to Daniels, Devine and Aldermen Renny Perry and Jeff Fritz:
“Joan does not report to me; she reports to the City Council. I noticed that you purposely omitted her as an addressee in your most recent e-mail … If she has been acting upon wrong assumptions as you claim, I would suggest that you simply meet with her on Monday and clarify everything instead of concluding that she has exhibited, as you have called ‘Bullying behavior’ and alleging ‘harassment’ and undermining your business. Those are pretty harsh words to be broadcasted behind one’s back. If warranted, I can assure you that the Mayor Daniels will take the lead on addressing your charges. If unwarranted, I’d say you owe her a sincere apology.”
Mahoney also alleged in her Dec. 18 complaint that Hawley’s service was sub-par in helping her obtain insurance for the lighting event after the council approved her to handle it on Nov. 14. She wrote, “I had followed up with Mel after the city council meeting because I needed this information to take to my insurance agent and he said he did not have the time to explain it to me.”
Nov. 14 council meeting minutes read: “Shannon Mahoney requested use of the City Green on December 2nd for the Holiday Stroll and Lighting of the City Green … She advised she would be able to get a rider from her insurance company.”
Nov. 15 emails, in order, read:
From Mahoney to Hawley at 2:11 p.m.: “Getting my insurance to cover it is possible, I just need to know exactly what is needed from my insurance and what specifically my business would be liable for on the green.”
Hawley in response at 2:29 p.m.: “I am available to speak to your agent if needed.”
Hawley said there were no further emails following that exchange.
In late 2016 Mahoney complained that Devine contacted the Department of Liquor Control regarding Mahoney’s plans to serve alcohol at her business, a situation that involved a third party. According to other emails Mahoney was also upset that Devine spoke to other businesses about their holiday party plans.
“Last year Joan Devine took it upon herself to contact the Department of Liquor Control when she believed I was going to be serving wine at a holiday event without a permit. It is not her job to police the businesses regarding permits. The city would not get in trouble for this and only the business would be fined,” Mahoney wrote.
Devine said in her Dec. 6 email that she was fulfilling part of her job description in her actions.
“It is my job to notify someone when a permit is needed just as the zoning administrator would do if he saw someone building a shed without a zoning permit,” she wrote.
Mahoney states in her complaint that she sat down with council member Perry and then-mayor Bill Benton to complain about Devine.
“I met with Bill and Renny in January of 2017 regarding Joan’s behavior and they did not want to move forward with a formal complaint because they said she was retiring soon and they did not want to rock the boat,” she wrote on Dec. 18, citing an earlier email.
In a Dec. 6 email, Perry wrote, “Joan, just to clarify, I did not say what Shannon alleges I said.”
Benton, in a Thursday interview, could not confirm those remarks or whether he met with Perry and Mahoney.
“I don’t remember that. I could have said it. I don’t remember saying it,” he said.
Benton said during his tenure as mayor he dealt with complaints about Devine, but none that he categorized as severe.
“During my four years as mayor, I received numerous complaints about Joan, from inappropriate comments to being brusque with customers,” Benton said. “None of this behavior rose to a level that I thought warranted formal disciplinary action. Joan takes her job very seriously.”
At times he also spoke with Hawley after hearing from unhappy residents.
“We had some complaints about sewer issues and all sorts of things. And I would to sit down and talk to him and say I heard this. And usually we would deal with it. It wasn’t a big deal,” Benton said. “There was nothing that was consequential that warranted any type of punishment.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].
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