The Block Island Times

Sewer/water clerk Ziegler suspended from job at Sewer Plant

Meeting to discuss her job performance postponed
By Stephanie Turaj | Sep 23, 2013

A meeting scheduled for Monday, Sept. 23, at 4 p.m. to discuss Janet Ziegler’s overall job performance has been postponed, and no new meeting date has been set. This meeting will be held in executive session, unless Ziegler requests otherwise, according to a separate letter written by Sewer Commission Chair Peter McNerney on Sept. 12.

Janet Ziegler, the sewer and water district clerk who also performs administrative duties for both departments, has been suspended from her administrative role at the sewer department since Sept. 1, according to a letter written by the Sewer Commission Chair Peter McNerney.

The letter, dated Aug. 30 and signed by McNerney, states that “[Sewer] Superintendent [Chris] Blane has decided to temporarily suspend you from your administrative duties at the Sewer plant, pending the Commissions’ meeting to review your continued employment.”

McNerney said that Ziegler could still continue her duties as a clerk, if she chooses, but there was temporary coverage if Ziegler opted not to. At the most recent Sewer and Water Commission meeting on Monday, Sept. 16, Ziegler was not present.

On Sept. 11, Ziegler’s attorney Mark Hagopian, of the South Kingstown firm Hagopian and Hagopian, responded to McNerney’s letter. He noted that Ziegler did not receive the Aug. 30 letter until Sept. 10.

In that Sept. 12 letter, McNerney informed Ziegler of the Sept. 23 meeting. “The subject of the meeting will concern allegations that you abused sick time by working elsewhere during your recent period of sick leave, allegations that you have conducted other business during work hours, your working relationship with other Sewer District and Water District staff, and your general job performance,” McNerney wrote.

In Hagopian’s letter — which was also sent to Sewer and Water Commission attorney Blake Filippi, the Sewer and Water Commissions, Town Manager Nancy Dodge and Town Solicitor Katherine Merolla — Hagopian made four requests of McNerney. He asked for “a written statement of the reasons the Sewer and Water Commissions intend to take the aforementioned actions, with sufficient particularity so that Ms. Ziegler may prepare for the ‘meeting’ in a meaningful manner.”

Hagopian also requested a list of people who would “either testify or give evidence at the ‘meeting.’” He requested “a written statement from Superintendent Blane setting forth the reasons for the suspension.” In addition, Hagopian requested copies of all communication between Blane and the members of the Sewer and Water Commissions regarding Ziegler’s employment.

Hagopian said that if he did not receive the requested documents within 10 days of his letter, dated Sept. 11, he would “file suit in the Superior Court to enjoin the ‘meeting’ and compel you to provide them to me.” A response was sent on Sept. 12.

Filippi responded to Hagopian’s letter on Sept. 12 with a response to the first two questions. He attached McNerney’s Sept. 12 letter as the answer to the first question, and also responded that “Chris Blane, John Breunig, Rene Boucher and individual commissioners may make comment at the meeting.”

Filippi also said in the letter, “I have advised Commissioner McNerney to reject your requests #3 and #4.” Requests three and four dealt with the reasons why Blane suspended Ziegler and the request for all correspondence between Blane and the Sewer and Water Commissions regarding Ziegler’s employment.

In his Sept. 12 letter, Filippi cited three legal precedents that he felt would confirm that Ziegler’s “contemplated lawsuit is without basis and will be rejected out of hand” and added the fact that since Ziegler serves “at will” she therefore has “limited, if any, due process protections that would entitle her to your demands.”

Hagopian responded on Sept. 16: “You opine in your September 12th correspondence that the suit I intend to bring if Ms. Ziegler is fired as the result of Mr. McNerney’s vendetta ‘will be rejected out of hand.’” Hagopian states that Ziegler’s “position as Secretary was specifically created by state law, it is a constitutionally protected liberty and property interest, as a result she may not be deprived of it without due process of law...”

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