PITTSFIELD -- The city's veterans' agent, Rosanne Frieri, has been suspended without pay for an unspecified period by Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi.
The mayor termed the cause "work-related" issues, while Frieri said the suspension late Tuesday afternoon followed her refusal to meet with Bianchi in his office.
Frieri also said her suspension followed a series of disagreements with the mayor or administration officials over details of the programs her office oversees.
She met Tuesday with Personnel Director John DeAngelo in her office, she said, and was asked to attend a meeting with the mayor; then was informed that "if you don't meet with the mayor today, you will be suspended without pay."
Frieri said she refused and soon after left for the day.
"I had been badgered by the mayor on a different occasion," she said, describing a scene in which Bianchi "started yelling and screaming at me. I said, never again without a third party."
Bianchi said Wednesday that the suspension is not for a specific time period, adding that he doesn't know how the matter will end. "It depend on what happens over the next week," he said.
Bianchi said Frieri, who has been the full-time veterans' agent here for seven years, and also is an agent for several Berkshire County towns as an independent contractor, has not been fired.
The mayor declined further comment about the situation, calling it a personnel matter he could not discuss.
He added that he believes other staff members can handle services for veterans, which include assisting with Veterans Administration medical or other benefit claims, without Frieri in the office. It will be "the highest priority," he said, "to have an office that can meet the needs of our veterans."
Frieri said she has concerns about the operation of the office, citing paperwork relating to veterans. "Basically, I am the one who runs the show," she said, adding that there are papers "I have to sign off on."
Bianchi said there won't be a problem with official paperwork, adding, "There are other veterans agents in Berkshire County."
Frieri said disputes included what she saw as foot-dragging in approving aspects of an Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Equine Assisted Learning program for veterans, which she helped launch this summer at a Richmond site. The pilot eight-week session, in which vets worked with and rode horses as part of their therapy during reintegration into society, was the first in the state, Frieri said, and most of the cost was approved for reimbursement through the state Department of Veterans Services.
"That should have been fully embraced and gone a lot more smoothly," she said, but Frieri contended that different offices in City Hall questioned and slowed down a program "that had been approved in Boston. I kept getting more frustrated," she said.
In addition, Frieri flew to Chicago in early June to attend a workshop on the horse therapy program. Her request to the city for reimbursement for the trip, costing $920, was denied, she said.
While in Chicago, Frieri was photographed by the Chicago Tribune, and the photo appeared in a June 9 article on the workshop.
For some time, she said, "I also felt there was a terrible strain," between her and the mayor, and that Bianchi "doesn't acknowledge me" when they meet at public events.
Frieri said she plans to meet with an attorney today to discuss the situation.
"I don't know what is going to happen at this point," she said. However, she said of the suspension, "I think it's unjustified."
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