Hearing postponed for Pittsfield vets agent Frieri
This story has been modified to reflect that one of the reasons the mayor has given for suspending Veterans Agent Roseanne Frieri is that she failed to appear at a City Council meeting to defend her department's budget.
PITTSFIELD -- A job-related hearing Friday for suspended city Veterans Services Officer Rosanne Frieri was postponed at the request of Frieri's attorney, likely until next week.
Local veterans, meanwhile, have been weighing in on Frieri's performance in the office, which she headed from 2007 until her suspension by Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi on Aug. 5.
The mayor had requested that she attend a meeting in his office related to her job performance, but Frieri said she refused because she had felt bullied and "badgered" during a prior meeting with the mayor, and she was immediately suspended without pay.
Letters to The Eagle generally have supported Frieri, as have some comments on the newspaper's Facebook page, but other social media comments were highly critical.
In addition, Bianchi's office released to the media this week four letters that were received by the mayor in May 2012 -- from American Legion Post 68, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 448, Chapter 65 of the Vietnam Veterans of America, and Chapter 15 of the Disabled American Veterans, all of Pittsfield. The letters state that the memberships of the individual chapters had voted unanimously on a motion of "no confidence" in Frieri as the veterans service officer.
City Director of Administrative Services Julia Sabourin said Friday that a number of veterans also have called the mayor's office to say they favor removing Frieri.
Bianchi did not list the letters as a reason for suspending the veterans officer, and took no action after the letters were received.
However, he issued a statement Aug. 8, saying Frieri was suspended for not preparing a department budget for fiscal 2015, for not defending her budget before the City Council when asked to appear, for being uncooperative with a co-worker and arriving late for work without proper notification.
Reached Friday, Frieri said she was aware of the 2012 letters, but contended that no action was taken against her at the time because the complaints "were not valid."
She said believes some older veterans "were not used to having a woman in there," and she was the first to serve in the position. There have not been similar issues with "the younger [veteran] population," she said.
Also serving as a veterans officer on a part-time, independent contractor basis in Lanesborough, Lenox, Dalton, Richmond, Peru and Cheshire, Frieri contended that she is respected in the region for the work she has done over the years.
In Pittsfield, the position is full time and has paid $49,843 annually, although the amount could rise under a new salary rate schedule for supervisors that recently was approved by the City Council.
Frieri said that, when she took over the office, there were 14 veteran clients and a budget of $77,000 in the state Department of Veterans Services programs she oversees for city veterans. Today, there are 130 clients and the budget totals more than $803,000, which she said illustrates how she has worked to expand services to veterans.
In general, the state reimburses communities at the rate of 75 percent for spending related to Department of Veterans Services programs for veterans. Veterans service officers assist vets and can act as an advocate for them in applying for state benefits, as well as for federal benefits through Veterans Administration programs.
It is also true that inevitably some benefits decisions she made or gave advice on were "not popular" with vets she or the state believed were not eligible for benefits or no longer eligible, Frieri said.
Concerning the current job-related allegations, Frieri said she did attend a June 7 City Council session on her budget, which received tentative council approval at that time, but not a later session on the overall city budget.
She contended that she did prepare an operational budget for her office, "which is essentially the same every year."
Frieri added that she has never been "written up" by the mayor for employment-related issues.
She also has said she might consider legal action over the situation, saying she does not want to cost city taxpayers money but believes she has to defend her reputation.
No new date for the hearing on Frieri's employment was announced Friday, but it is expected to be held next week.
Neither Bianchi nor Frieri's attorney, Albert J. Cimini of Pittsfield, could be reached for comment.
To reach Jim Therrien:
or (413) 496-6247.
On Twitter: @BE_therrien
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