City Manager Mel Hawley speaks out on complaint at meeting

VERGENNES — City Manager Mel Hawley at Tuesday’s Vergennes City Council meeting read a 600-word statement addressing the December complaint filed against him by a downtown business owner.
The statement, technically a memorandum addressed to the council, detailed why Hawley believed his specific actions outlined in the complaint — such as copying City Clerk Joan Devine with email correspondence and making sure that a privately organized effort to install holiday lights on the city green was properly insured — were appropriate.
He also wrote and read out loud with the cable TV camera running, “I admit I was short with her on the phone,” referring to complainant Shannon Mahoney.
But in closing paragraphs Hawley took issue with two statements in the complaint.
One read, “Both Joan and Mel make decisions and choices without accountability or consequences.”
Hawley stated, “I think I can speak for Joan as well in this regard as we both understand we are fully accountable to the City Council and there are consequences for any wrongdoing.”
The other statement in the complaint that upset Hawley read, “In speaking with many businesses and residents in our community, there have been countless occurrences of disrespectful and inappropriate behavior by City Hall employees.”
Hawley stated, “Joan and I feel we have tried to provide excellent customer service to our citizens, the business community, and visitors for nearly four decades. I am personally offended by such a baseless remark. I am sure Joan feels the same.”
After fits and starts, including meetings between some council members and Mahoney, and disagreement with former mayor Michael Daniels and aldermen on how the complaint should be handled, the council backed Mayor Renny Perry’s recommendation in February that the issues Mahoney raised should be dealt with in Hawley’s and Devine’s annual reviews.
In an earlier email to the Independent Mahoney said she agreed with that approach.
“Though the complaint was originally mishandled, I have been assured by the city council that it will be handled correctly moving forward. I respect the new process that has been put in place by the city council and I trust the city council to handle the situation to the best of their ability,” she wrote.
On Tuesday, Deputy Mayor Jeff Fritz, who ran the meeting in Perry’s absence, agreed the council should have better handled the complaint and would handle similar issues more appropriately in the future.
“I apologize to our employees and everyone involved that we did not have a procedure in place,” Fritz said. “As a council I feel we may have dropped the ball, and we will pick it up.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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