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MINUTES - SPECIAL MEETING - NEWFANE SELECTBOARD
APRIL 24th, 2008
NEWFANE TOWN OFFICE

PRESENT:
Selectboard: Gary Katz, Chair, Joseph Mandell, Peter Rysz, and Guy Wachtel. Jeff Gouger (absent)
Also Present: Judy Egan, Edward Druke, John J. Feifel, Shannon Meckle, Jahari Lee Overton, Virginia Grabowski, Nicole Orne (Brattleboro Reformer), Ken Meckle, Todd Lawley (Road Foreman), Katy Robinson, and Doris Knechtel

1. CALL TO ORDER

The Special meeting was called to order by Chairman Gary Katz at 10:05 a.m.

2. DISCUSSION OF LETTER RECEIVED FROM ATTORNEY THOMAS FRENCH

Chairman Katz indicated that the purpose of the Special Meeting was to discuss the letter sent to four Board members from Attorney Thomas French, representing Peter W. Rysz, regarding a Sexual Harassment Complaint. G. Katz also indicated that D. Knechtel will be taking the minutes for this meeting. The Board will remain in open session for this discussion.

G. Katz then suggested that board member Peter Rysz, recuse himself from the discussion in light of the fact that the letter being discussed was from an attorney representing P. Rysz. Initially, P. Rysz did not agree. G. Katz read the section from the VLCT Selectboard Handbook dealing with Identifying Conflicts of Interest.

G. Katz read the letter from Attorney T. French, on behalf of client P. Rysz, to the members of the public present at the meeting. The letter requests:

a. that the Selectboard investigate and address the sexual harassment complaint filed by Sharon (Shannon) Meckle, Administrative Assistant, against P. Rysz, as outlined in the Town of Newfane Sexual Harassment Policy;

b. that either the evidence exonerating him (P. Rysz) be publically disclosed, with an apology or an independent investigator by hired by you (Selectboard) to conduct a complete and independent investigation of Ms. Meckle’s complaint.

The letter also indicates that if he (P. Rysz) does not receive a satisfactory response from the town within two weeks, P. Rysz will file a Federal Court civil complaint against the individual Selectboard members and the town of Newfane.

The letter also indicates that P. Rysz’s reputation has been damaged since the issue became public.
At this time P. Rysz recused himself from the discussion and sat with the members of the public.
J. Mandell then offered a possible motion, which he read as follows: “The Newfane Selectboard when first hearing of a complaint by Mrs. Shannon Meckle (Shannon) against Mr. Peter W. Rysz (Peter) suggesting possible sexual harassment it promptly set in motion a process of dealing with such complaint. The purpose of the process was to ascertain whether or not a formal sexual harassment hearing should take place. The first official process took place only after an unofficial process was begun by a board member without the consent of the board. It was then referred to the board chair Mr. Joseph Mandell (Joe). In this first step (the) Joe encouraged Peter to talk to Shannon to see if the matter could be settled before any formal hearing. Failing to put the matter to rest the board then proceeded to use a process suggested by VLCT in which Joe talked privately with Peter and Shannon. This resulted in a statement that each agreed to sign which referred to “perceived objectionable language” and had a number of points that both verbally agreed to. This process failed because Peter did not want to sign because it did not fully and completely absolve him of the charge. Shannon not wishing to prolong the matter, agreed to provide the board a confidential statement derived from her contact with the Vermont Attorney General’s office, which asserted that she was satisfied that the matter had been dealt with and that she understood that the Attorney General’s office found her complaint did not rise to the level of sexual harassment. After reading this letter, the board concluded that the matter was over and done with, but unfortunately did not issue a statement declaring that it found that no sexual harassment had taken place. We apologize to Peter that this statement of absolvement was not issued then. We now declare that we have concluded that Peter is innocent of the charge of sexual harassment and that the matter should be put behind us.”

S. Meckle indicated that the person she spoke with at the Attorney General’s Office, investigator Steve Pitonyak, gave the opinion that the matter in question did not meet the criteria that would have made it sexual harassment. She also stated that P. Rysz’s behavior toward her has been damaging to her and her family. She would like to be assured that there not be any further comments and retaliation action by P. Rysz.

G. Katz then offered a potential motion to be considered by the board, which he read as follows:
“On February 21, 2008, upon coming out of an Executive Session, the Newfane Selectboard passed the following motion made by Guy Wachtel and seconded by Ellen Darrow: “Guy Wachtel made a motion not to hire an attorney to do an investigation into this matter; noting that there was no longer a sexual harassment complaint pending.”

The background for this decision was that a complaint had been made and the Selectboard looked into it. The State Attorney General’s office advised the complainant that the communication that had taken place did not meet the criteria that would have made it sexual harassment. A verbal apology for any misunderstanding was made. No further pursuit of the claim occurred.

Based on this, (that) the Selectboard had determined that Peter Rysz did not commit sexual harassment. The complainant, taking into account advice from the Attorney General’s office, agreed with the determination.

On April 17, 2008, the current Selectboard passed the following motion on coming out of Executive Session, made by Guy Wachtel and seconded by Joe Mandell: “The Board agrees that the previous Board resolved this issue appropriately and further agrees not to take any further action on this matter.”

Mr. Rysz’ request for a further investigation into a case n which the Selectboard already has found that he did no commit sexual harassment would involve an unnecessary expenditure of the taxpayers’ funds and would have the effect of keeping expenditure of the taxpayers’ funds and would have the effect of keeping this matter stirred up at a time when it has already unfortunately contributed to tension and anxiety among all of the staff in the Newfane Town Office and on the Town Road Crew.

The Selectboard has no problem with reiterating at this duly-warned meeting of the Board the finding of the previous Board that Mr. Rysz did not commit sexual harassment.

The Selectboard sincerely hopes that the reiteration of this finding satisfies Mr. Rysz’ concern about exoneration. The Board also wishes to assure everybody in Newfane that no reprisals or other activities related to this matter will be tolerated. The Board believes that it is in the best interest of the Town - as well as the people who have been affected - to close this unfortunate episode and move forward and deal with the many substantive issues facing the Town without continuing distraction.”

Board members discussed the two above potential motions to be considered. The Board may respond to Attorney T. French with one or the other or parts of both in the form of a letter.

Concern was expressed by T. Lawley as to where this may leave S. Meckle, her reputation, job status and further retaliation. Is the town willing to hire legal counsel for S. Meckle if needed? He also is concerned about the effect that this matter has had on the operation of the Highway Department.

K. Meckle indicated that he spoke with former selectman, D. DeWalt, about the borderline sexual comments made to his wife by P. Rysz.

When the question was raised regarding what “sexual harassment” means, G. Katz read from some portions of the Newfane Sexual Harassment Policy: (3) the conduct has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.” One of many examples listed - * retaliation of any kind for having filed or supported a complaint of sexual harassment (e.g., ostracizing the person, pressuring the person to drop or not support the complaint, adversely altering that person’s duties or work environment, etc.); Under the section of what the town should do - “The Town of Newfane is committed, and required by law, to take action if it learns of potential sexual harassment, even if the aggrieved employee does not wish to formally file a complaint.” The extent and nature of an investigation of a complaint is not specified. The current board feels that they did act appropriately as outlined in the above potential responses to Attorney T. French stated above.

To review the two statements, one offered by J. Mandell and one offered by G. Katz, each was read again by G. Katz. Motion was made by G. Wachtel and seconded by J. Mandell to respond to Attorney T. French letter of April 21st, 2008 “ Re: Peter W. Rysz - Sexual Harassment Complaint” using the proposed language presented by G. Katz as the body of the letter. Three in favor. Motion passes. (Language presented on page #2). The events that took place as well as the facts of what occurred are included in the statement. G. Katz will compose the letter to Attorney T. French, to be reviewed by J. Mandell and G. Wachtel, and sent after agreement of the contents by all three members participating.

When P. Rysz was asked if anything was missing, he stated that his attorney advised him not to comment on the matter.

The question was raised by J. Overton about future retaliation and what action the Board will take. Any further reprisals or other activities relating to this matter will not be tolerated. If any employee feels that they are being harassed or retaliated against, it should be brought to the Board to act on as a whole. One Board member cannot affect the job status of an employee. S. Meckle indicated that she has been keeping a log of direct and indirect retaliatory comments that have been made to her.

K. Meckle would like to be assured that in the future P. Rysz and his wife not be alone as he is concerned for her safety. This should be avoided by both parties in the future.

G. Wachtel has been hopeful for a peaceful conclusion to this matter and hopes that this latest action of the Board will put this matter behind them.

E. Druke asked about the nature of the Executive Session held at the end of the meeting on April 3rd to discuss personnel issues. He indicated that the employee being discussed had a right to be present. G. Katz indicated that who is present during Executive Sessions is at the discretion of the Board. After some discussion, it was agreed that it will be the policy of this Board that if an Executive Session is to be considered during a meeting, the Chairman should know the nature of the discussion in advance and the Board should decide by consensus, at the beginning of the meeting, whether or not an Executive Session is warranted.

3. TO TRANSACT ANY OTHER BUSINESS THAT MAY LEGALLY COME BEFORE THE MEETING


11:34 a.m. Selectboard member P. Rysz returned to the meeting at this time.
A. Williamsville Covered Bridge (CB#17) - Chairman Katz reported that he and T.
Lawley met with Roger Whitcomb and Jeff Clark from the state bridge division to review the potential staging areas to be used during the time of the Williamsville Covered Bridge reconstruction. One area was the W. Phelps property and the other the pull-off area west of the covered bridge, which is the better
site. Motion was made by J. Mandell and seconded by G. Wachtel to have Chairman G. Katz write a
letter to the property owners of the pull- off area as soon as possible asking permission for the town to use the pull-off area mentioned for the staging area during the covered bridge reconstruction. Unanimous. Also with regard to the bridge, Caution Motorcycle signs and replacement of missing deck boards will be taken care of.
B. Access Permits - G. Wachtel worked on the access permit details with T. Lawley and C.
Williams. Most of their concerns are included in the current Highway Access Policy and the application for Access/Right of Way Permit.

(1) For access permit (#08-02) submitted by Gary Taylor for property on Grimes Hill Road (TH#5) onto property lot #00D-290 has some suggested conditions. The conditions will be rewritten for better clarification of what is expected and the Board will consider this access permit at their meeting of 05/01/08.

(2) Access permit (#08-01) submitted by Patrick Corbett to change the location of an existing drive off of 76 Duke Road onto property lot #00F-111 was approved to be built to B71A standards. Motion was made by G. Wachtel and seconded by P. Rysz to approve and sign Access Permit #08-01. Unanimous.
C. T. Lawley indicated that the current Unicel cell phone is outdated. A M-900 booster for the
amount of $389.00 will be needed for digital compliance. This information was researched by Jay Wilson.

4. ADJOURNMENT

Motion was made by P. Rysz and seconded by G. Wachtel to adjourn the special meeting of the Selectboard at 11:55 a.m. Unanimous.

Respectfully Submitted,
Doris A. Knechtel, Clerk Pro Tem

Posted: Town Clerk's Office, Newfane Store, W.W. Building Supply,
S. Newfane/Williamsville Post Office and the South Newfane General Store & Deli. www.newfanevt.com
(after approval)

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