At least 75 members of Local 1120 of the Communications Workers of America packed the Frank Greco Senior Center Wednesday to tell the Town Board not to approve the termination of highway superintendent’s secretary Mary Lou Dengler.
The motion never came to a vote, as no board member would move or second it. After some discussion, Councilman Bruce Leighton moved that the matter be dropped from the agenda, and the board voted unanimously to do so, to a standing ovation from the audience.
Supervisor Kelly Myers assured the workers that if the issue is revived it will be decided at a public meeting.
The circumstances of the “personnel issue” were not made clear. Based on what was said, it appeared to relate to the secretary’s ability to do her job — a new computer program she didn’t know was cited — and the subsequent hiring of a new employee in the department using FEMA funds.
Mike Lutfring, assistant to the president of Local 1120, Communications Workers of America, said Dengler “has always done her job, to the point that when she got hurt, and could not (come to) work because she broke her back and her wrist, she had them bring her work to her home.”
Dengler has not been subject to any disciplinary hearings, and has not been written up for misconduct, Lutfring said. “I don’t know how you move from 22 years of service to a motion to fire an individual like this.”
Vera White, a CWA shop steward employed as a police dispatcher, questioned the creation of a Federal Emergency Management Agency position in the highway department, asserting that no one would provide a clear answer as to how the funds were being used.
The position was created temporarily while funds from FEMA were being used to repair road damage from Hurricane Irene and being administered through the highway department office. Darcy Snyder was hired to fill that position and is now doing much of the work that Dengler was doing, Dengler said in a recent telephone interview.
White also questioned the timing of criticism of Dengler, saying that “when we made this inquiry regarding Mary Lou’s position, and other positions, it seemed almost that the head hunt began for Mary Lou, that Mary Lou could no longer perform the duties that she has performed for 10 to 12 years in the highway department.” Prior to that position, Dengler had worked as a police dispatcher in the town.
White said she had inquired about certain positions, and she was given the Civil Service description for a clerk. “If the position is covered by Civil Service, why was it not posted for any other union member to have access to it?” she asked.
Resident Vincent Hackett asserted that when former Highway Superintendent Bernard Ellsworth was ill, Dengler virtually ran the department, and asked how the board could “take a job away from a person just because they’re getting old.”
Following the meeting, Highway Superintendent Doug Myer said the position is exempt from Civil Service regulations. He said that Dengler is a “sweet woman, and I am trying to protect her.” He declined to give any details, as the personnel matter is still unresolved.
But Dengler said Myer “doesn’t talk to me except when he has to,” and that he is giving work to Snyder that she used to do. She is sure she could find a local source for the training she needs on the new computer program.
“Before the election, Doug Myer told me ‘don’t worry about your job,’ and things worked well until he brought that girl (Snyder) in,” Dengler said.
While she acknowledged that she had made some mistakes, Dengler said she has 22 years of work with the town, and was given an award during her years as a police dispatcher for outstanding work. When former Highway Superintendent Bernard Ellsworth was ill, she kept the department running with some help from him, she said.
If Myer would sit down with her and discuss the situation, Dengler said she is sure they could work things out.