DECISION: Suspended Town Employee Transferred

A negotiated agreement was finalized on Friday

   An East Hampton Town employee who was suspended from her job for 30 days without pay after her supervisor, Diane Patrizio, the head of the Human Services Department, brought disciplinary charges of misconduct and incompetence against her, will be transferred to another town department, at a slight pay decrease.
    According to a negotiated agreement finalized on Friday, Linda Norris will be removed from the position of adult day care supervisor, where she was paid $29.34 per hour, and become an administrative aide in the town Department of Housing and Community Development, at an hourly rate of $26.56. That appointment will be temporary, and require Ms. Norris to pass a qualification test to retain it, John Jilnicki, the town attorney, said Tuesday.
    Details of the personnel matter were not discussed in public, beyond the agreed-upon measures described in a resolution, but town board members who voted to ratify the settlement on Tuesday expressed dismay that they had no choice but to settle the matter.
    “I’m really disturbed both by the underlying nature of this case, and the process by which it has been adjudicated, and a settlement has been proposed,” said Councilman Dominick Stanzione, who is the board’s liaison to the Human Services Department. He said it was “extremely frustrating” and “extremely unfortunate that the information in this case cannot be made public.”
    But, he said, “I rely on the advice of counsel in reluctantly supporting this motion.” Supervisor Bill Wilkinson echoed Mr. Stanzione’s sentiments, and referred to a “record of former decisions” that affected how the Norris case was settled.
    Councilwoman Theresa Quigley refused to vote for the settlement. “We have a complete failure in past practice,” she said. “It’s egregious enough that I think it’s time to take a stand.” 
    Ms. Norris had retained two attorneys to fight on her behalf, Thomas Horn of Sag Harbor and Lawrence Kelly of Bayport. Both have challenged East Hampton Town in several lawsuits on behalf of residents and employees. As a union employee, Ms. Norris was entitled to legal representation through the union, but instead retained the private attorneys.
    Mr. Horn said yesterday that his client was “very happy to be getting back to work. And I’m glad the board approved the agreement,” he said. “The agreement in the long run will keep a dedicated employee serving the community, and we’re happy with the results.”
    The settlement between the parties contains additional conditions not listed in the resolution passed by the board, Mr. Jilnicki said Tuesday.
    After hearing of the charges against Ms. Norris, a number of people familiar with her work — whose relatives had attended programs overseen by her at the senior center, for instance — came forward to praise and defend her.
    A crowd of supporters filled East Hampton Town Hall on Friday, when a hearing on Ms. Norris’s case was scheduled, after it was announced that Ms. Norris and her attorneys had asked that the hearing be conducted in public.
    The hearing did not go forward, however. Instead, negotiations between attorneys for the town and Ms. Norris took place over several hours, resulting in the settlement.
    Mr. Horn said last month that the charges against Ms. Norris were based on “a bunch of vague incidents thrown together,” and suggested that the employee was targeted because she was “one of Edna’s people,” referring to Edna Steck, the former longtime head of the Human Services Department, who has retired. Mr. Stanzione and Mr. Wilkinson had criticized her administration of the department.
    In addition, Mr. Horn suggested that the charges were related to a disagreement about the disposition of two bequests totaling more than $440,000, made to the Human Services Department by a former client, Nicole Kopf, and whether the money was intended specifically for the adult day care program or for all of the senior citizens’ services. The complaints included charges of “disrespectful and threatening” behavior toward subordinates, Mr. Horn said.
    A second Human Services employee was suspended on disciplinary charges at the same time as Ms. Norris. The charges against Sheila Carter, a senior bus service supervisor, will be the subject of an upcoming hearing before Eileen Powers, an appointed hearing officer who will make a recommendation to the town board as to how the matter should be settled.