Report alleges Monson selectman's ‘unprofessional’ behavior

Jan. 18, 2023 | Lauren LeBel
llebel@thereminder.com

Safety and Respect at Work CEO Jean Haertl shared the investigation findings and recommendations for next steps with Mary Hull during the Dec. 12, 2022, Select Board meeting.
Reminder Publishing screen capture

MONSON – Next steps for Select Board Vice Chair Mary Hull are uncertain now that an investigation into the complaints made against her is complete.

According to the investigation report that is posted to the towns website, Town Administrator Jennifer Wolowicz made a written complaint on May 16, 2022, and submitted it to former Select Board Chair Dr. Richard Smith. On May 18, 2022, Smith asked Safety and Respect at Work LLC to conduct an investigation. Safety and Respect at Work CEO Jean Haertl was the sole investigator throughout the process. She interviewed 23 individuals including town personnel and residents, utilized videos from town and Select Board meetings along with reviewing documents to obtain as much information as possible.

The report summary focused on four specific incidents that Wolowicz alleged took place.

“On or about February 2022 through March 8, 2022, Hull engaged in unprofessional conduct towards her [Wolowicz] by including multiple ‘low and unfair’ performance rating scores within her performance review of Wolowicz. She additionally alleged Hull engaged in disrespectful conduct towards her by making disparaging remarks about her performance and falsely claiming ‘hundreds of people’ had complained to her about her poor performance,” the report read.

In Wolowicz’s performance review, Hull included numerous “unsatisfactory” ratings but did not provide any commentary as to why.

Haertl said, “I find Hull’s statements regarding Wolowicz’s performance review lack credibility.” While Hull said her scores reflect the conversations she had with “hundreds” of residents, Haertl noted that corroborated statements from Hull, Smith and current Chair Pat Oney indicated that Smith directed the Select Board to speak with three or four town department heads to solicit feedback for Wolowicz’s review. The Select Board has never considered resident feedback in their ratings.

Haertl went on to explain that there were several statements made from town employees and residents that raised concern regarding Wolowicz’s conduct and performance.

“Specifically, several residents and employees corroborated they believed Wolowicz’s leadership and communication style needed improvement,” said Haertl. “However, Hull clearly based her negative review of Wolowicz’s performance solely on these negative statements and she deliberately excluded any positive or neutral statements from town officials and employees concerning Wolowicz’s performance.”

During the April 12, 2022 Select Board meeting, Wolowicz alleged, Hull violated the town’s code of conduct policy by referring to her as “sneaky,” “irresponsible” and “rude,” telling her she “was completely crapping on the Board of Health.”

The town’s code of conduct policy instructs employees and individuals conducting business in town to “show respect for others, avoid causing disruptions and to use common courtesy when interacting with others,” shared Haertl. The code of conduct further prohibits “harassing conduct that affects employment conditions, that interferes unreasonable with an individual’s performance or that creates an intimidating or offensive work environment.”

Haertl found Hull’s commentary and conduct during the meeting to be “highly unprofessional and disrespectful” and constituted a violation of the town’s code of conduct. She noted that Hull also mocked gestures and utterances towards Wolowicz, which was also found to be disrespectful and distracting.
Wolowicz also alleged that during the April 26, 2022 Select Board meeting, Hull once again engaged in unprofessional, disrespectful and uncivil conduct and commentary toward her in violation of the town’s code of conduct policy.

Wolowicz said Hull was making multiple “disparaging remarks and disrespectful nonverbal utterances while referencing ‘her alleged poor performance,’” said Haertl. Wolowicz further claimed Hull falsely reported to the board that town employees were “miserable” and afraid to come forward to voice concerns about Wolowicz’s performance, as they will still have to work with her. Haertl found Hull’s statement to be misplaced, unfair and not supported by credible evidence.

From the same meeting, Wolowicz also complained that Hull engaged in unprofessional conduct toward her by denying her request to the Select Board to engage an outside mediator to provide conflict resolution training to improve communications between her, the Select Board and Hull.

The final incident that Haertl investigated was from Annual Town Meeting. On May 9, 2022, Wolowicz alleged, Hull engaged in highly unprofessional conduct against her in violation of the town’s code of conduct by calling her “a piece of s***.” Hull went on to question Wolowicz’s position as a town official in front of a meeting with over 200 residents and town personnel.

Smith immediately informed Town Moderator Peter Matrow of what Hull had called Wolowicz, resulting in Hull being asked to remove herself from the meeting until it was over.

Within her written complaint to the Select Board, and from multiple interviews, Wolowicz alleged that Hull has engaged in a pattern of public and personal attacks against her since February 2021. She wrote in part, “I have been subjected to a workplace fraught with insults, harassment, humiliation and personal attacks on a regular basis dating back to February 2021 from Ms. Hull which have Ms. Hull’s words and actions have created a situation where I find it difficult to perform the most mundane of a task for fear of unfair criticism as to my authority to perform such duties.”

As the Select Board meetings are live streamed on Monson’s local access channel and available for viewing afterward, Wolowicz said everyone can see the public mocking and attacks that are made. “Building a rapport in a new community is difficult enough for a town administrator without a member of the appointing authority continually undermining my position with the constant belittling.”

While Wolowicz complained Hull’s treatment of her was harassment, she told Haertl she did not believe Hull was treating her this way based on gender, race, real or perceived disability or any other 151(b) protected category.
Based on the findings of facts and conclusions from this investigation, Haertl came up with 14 recommendations for the Select Board to consider next steps.

On Dec. 14, 2022, the Select Board was joined by Haertl to discuss the findings and hear her recommendations. Because the complaints were made against Hull, she was unable to vote on any of the recommendations.
The first recommendation was to ensure the town administrator and every Select Board member signs off on receiving a copy of the code of conduct.

Oney and Select Board Clerk John Morrell voted to pass over this recommendation.

The second recommendation was to nullify Wolowicz’s March 8, 2022, performance review and remove it from her personnel file. The Select Board voted to accept this.

The third recommendation was passed over but pertained to establishing an updated performance review policy process.

The fourth recommendation, to ensure the performance review process for the town administrator is clearly defined and communicated to relevant parties, was accepted.

Recommendation number five, to review and update the current town administrator job description to ensure goals and objectives are clear, manageable and achievable, was accepted.

An amendment was made and accepted on the sixth recommendation, to consider outside mediation if needed and to also consider taking a recess from Select Board discussions if necessary.

The seventh recommendation was also amended and accepted, to engage an outside employment/labor firm or certified professional to deliver executive briefings/trainings to town management and the board covering the following: discriminatory and sexual harassment prevention; respectful workplace communication, code of conduct, state ethics laws; and customer service training, to name a few. The board will consider taking these actions and take advantage of the ones they think they want to go forward with.

The eighth recommendation was accepted and will offer employee assistance support and services to the town administrator and staff.

The ninth recommendation was to offer individualized training to Hull on respectful workplace discourse. The recommendation was accepted.

The 10th recommendation, to engage an outside professional to offer ongoing mentoring and coaching to the town administrator, was also accepted.

The Select Board passed over the 11th recommendation, to enact a bylaw that increases the number of Select Board members from three to five. Oney noted that residents already voted against this at Special Town Meeting.

The 12th recommendation was amended and accepted to consider seeking guidance from outside counsel in the event the board feels they aren’t receiving enough information from the current town counsel regarding appropriateness and guidelines.

The final two recommendations, number 13 and 14, were passed over. The recommendations pertained to establishing a customer service feedback mechanism and to consider a climate survey/audit of the towns inter-intra department communications.

Next steps for Hull will be discussed during the Jan. 24 Select Board meeting.

Wolowicz

Now that the investigation is complete and the report has been released, Wolowicz said, “I thought the report was well done and validated my complaint and concern brought forward” since taking on her position in February 2021.

“Since the beginning of my tenure, [Hull] has treated me unfairly,” shared Wolowicz.

Even though it has almost been two years of dealing with this, Wolowicz said, “[The town has] still strived and for the most part been able to accomplish many of the goals” it wanted to. She said they have done their best to not let this “hinder” the way the town operates but unfortunately it does pose some difficulties at times.

“My goal and my job are to move Monson forward,” added Wolowicz.

She noted that the residents as a whole seem to be “very happy” with how the town is being run by the Select Board. Following the release of the report, she said residents have stopped in to express their thoughts and feelings on the findings.

Wolowicz informed Reminder Publishing that her relationship with Hull has not seen any improvement.

She went on to say that she is “acting as a professional town administrator” and has worked to try and engage Hull in many conversations. However, as the town administrator, Wolowicz is hopeful to set an example for others and show that “it’s OK” to stand up for yourself when being treated inappropriately.

The total cost of the investigation was nearly $47,600.

Reminder Publishing reached out to Hull for comment but did not receive a response as of press time.

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