Frieri officially out as Pittsfield vets agent
PITTSFIELD -- An attorney representing city Veterans Officer Rosanne Frieri confirmed Monday that she has been fired by Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi but said that details concerning her pension or any severance agreement have yet to be discussed.
Albert J. Cimini, of Pittsfield, also termed the firing "wrongful and actionable," and said he and Frieri are considering a lawsuit.
Cimini said he will attempt this week to meet with city Personnel Department officials about the status of any benefits due Frieri, who was suspended on Aug. 5 without pay after failing to attend a meeting with Bianchi to discuss allegations about her job performance.
Frieri has said she would not attend a meeting without an attorney or independent third party because of what she termed "badgering" by the mayor during a meeting in his office in March. She said there had been a series of disagreements in recent months with the mayor and other officials at City Hall over aspects of the operation of her department, which she headed since 2007.
The mayor denied on Monday that he had acted in an intimidating manner toward Frieri in March. "I don't belittle people; that is not my style," he said.
Bianchi said someone had registered a complaint against Frieri over a comment she allegedly had made and was in his office when he asked the veterans officer to come in. "My recollection was that I encouraged her to stay focused on her mission [as veterans officer]," he said.
In addition, Bianchi said Monday there are no plans to discuss a severance agreement with Frieri; he said the city Retirement Board is the proper place to inquire about any pension issues.
In a letter Cimini said was sent to Frieri that was dated Aug. 5, the mayor cited among performance issues that the department head had failed to prepare a fiscal 2015 budget for the office, was late for work without giving proper notification, and did not follow a directive to attend a July 15 City Council meeting to speak about deficits in the fiscal 2014 veterans office budget.
In a registered letter, dated Aug. 21 and released Monday by Cimini, Bianchi cites a meeting at City Hall on Aug. 19 concerning Frieri's job performance. Bianchi refers in the letter to allegations he previously raised before concluding, "I am therefore terminating your employment as of today."
One issue, Bianchi said, was that Frieri had refused to meet with him, her supervisor, without an attorney present. "You were advised that you had no legal right to make that demand," he stated in the termination letter.
Cimini said Monday that Frieri was "within her rights" to ask to have an attorney present, given her description of a March meeting in the mayor's office. He said that a witness, former city Director of Administrative Services Mary McGinnis, was present and has supplied him with a statement describing the March meeting.
McGinnis' statement described the mayor's demeanor toward Frieri as "disturbing, hostile and intimidating," Cimini said, and she stated that "Rosanne did not respond." McGinnis also stated that the mayor was "yelling loudly," the attorney said.
Reached Monday, McGinnis said, "It was a very toxic atmosphere in there," adding that she would like to see that come out.
McGinnis worked for one year as the mayor's top aide before returning from a leave of absence from her longtime nursing-related job with Berkshire Health Systems.
In denying Monday that he had belittled Frieri at the March meeting, Bianchi said that "what is lost in all this, is that I took a lot of criticism from veterans when I came into office for supporting her [Frieri]. I had shown support for my staff."
Since her suspension, letters of "no confidence" in Frieri as veterans officer from several local veterans groups that were sent to the mayor's office in 2012 have been released. Individual veterans also have sent letters to The Eagle both praising her work and describing callous or abusive verbal treatment when they went to the city veterans office.
Bianchi said that "work-related issues" over time ultimately led to Frieri's suspension and firing, adding that "there is only so much I can say as this is a personnel issue."
Bianchi, in his termination letter, said that Frieri failed to prepare a fiscal 2015 budget for her department, and that city Finance Director and Treasurer Susan Carmel "had to repeatedly remind you to prepare the budget and you failed to do so."
He said Carmel prepared the fiscal 2015 budget and signed it herself.
In addition, Bianchi stated that, "You [Frieri] were also directed to appear before the City Council ... at a meeting on July 15, 2014, since your [fiscal 2014] budget was in deficit," adding that Frieri did not attend.
Frieri has said she did attend the June 7 council hearing on her new budget, which was approved, adding that she believes she did complete a new budget that is typically the same each year. She said Monday that she believes she also signed a copy of the budget paperwork but that it is possibly in her former office, and she has been locked out of the second-floor City Hall office since her suspension.
Alleged "inappropriate and unprofessional emails" sent to City Accountant Ben Wax by Frieri also were mentioned in her termination letter, as were alleged "demeaning" comments to city Procurement Officer Colleen Hunter Mullet.
Frieri contends she experienced a series of roadblocks to the operation of her office stemming from disputes with Wax, Hunter Mullet and others over spending approvals or veterans programs that began only in recent months. Referring to the auditor's office, she said, "I always got along great with people in that office."
Bianchi said no decisions have yet been made on filling the veterans officer position, but that he might consider an interim appointment. He said he believes the remaining staff is keeping up with veterans services.
Commenting on why he believes his client's firing was wrongful, Cimini said Monday that one reason is he asked to look at Frieri's personnel file and it "was completely clean," having no performance warnings or other negative information.
Bianchi said he could not comment on a personnel issue but added, "Suffice it to say, it wasn't empty."
Contacted by phone, Fred Dupere, of Dupere Law Office of Westfield, who is representing the city, said Frieri's attorney is entitled to his opinion, but "we would vigorously defend any action against the city."
To reach Jim Therrien:
or (413) 496-6247
On Twitter: @BE_therrien
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.