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Argyle town employees allege harassment

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One current and one former Town of Argyle employee have filed charges of sexual harassment against the town with the Dallas District office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Although the complaints, filed in early January, are directed only at Mayor Matt Smith, the town was placed in jeopardy because his alleged actions occurred during the time he assumed the office of Interim Town Manager.

During the Oct. 23, 2012, council meeting, the members voted 3-2 to appoint Smith as Interim Town Manager without pay until the new Town Manager, Charles West, assumed his duties.

Council members Joey Hasty, Joan Delashaw and David Wintermute voted for West and Smith’s appointments, while Haynes and Krueger voted against.

Town attorney Matthew Boyle said the appointment of Smith was acceptable because the mayor is the executive officer of the town and received a majority vote from the council. He added that it did not, however, give Smith the authority to act independently of the Town Council. Boyle also advised the council to delay any personnel reviews or decisions until West’s arrival.

Both EEOC complaints cite an e-mail from Smith on Nov. 15, 2012, acting against the prior recommendation of the town attorney, outlining a realignment of town staff job descriptions and responsibilities, as well as chain-of-supervision and physical location.

The first complaint was filed by a current staff member and alleges sexual harassment and job demotion.

“Her job performance was just under scrutiny and was coming back under scrutiny at the next council meeting, and therefore she files an EEOC complaint and renders herself non-touchable,” said Smith in a phone interview.

The second complaint was filed by a former town staff employee and alleges sexual harassment and resulting job resignation.

Carissa Finney, former Permit Clerk for the Town of Argyle, submitted her resignation Nov. 16, 2012.

“This has to do with two disgruntled employees,” said Smith. “It’s vindictive and political. If there is any validity to it, let’s all three parties involved take a polygraph test.”

In an e-mail sent to Smith, members of Town Council and the media, Finney stated that dissatisfaction with Mayor Smith’s management style, changes to her “job function, duties and supervisor without any warning or consultation” and a “hostile work environment” at town hall contributed to her decision.

“When I moved the two girls up to town hall, Carissa flipped out and just resigned right there on the spot,” said Smith. “No one even talked to her. She just had a knee-jerk reaction.”

“The allegations cited in the charges occurred exclusively during the period [of time] when he [Smith] was acting as the Interim Town Manager,” said Boyle in a phone interview. “Luckily, all parties have consented to agree to go through the EEOC mediation process.”

It was also during the Oct. 23, 2012, meeting that the council voted 3-2 to make more than 20 amendments to the town’s Code of Ordinances, many of which involved removing responsibilities from the Town Manager and placing them with the mayor. None of the amendments have been posted for public review.

Since Smith was elected in May 2011, former Town Manager Lyle Drescher retired in March 2012 after five years of service and the Interim Town Manager who had been hired was fired in September.

During their Jan. 22, 2013, meeting, council members voted to move supervision of the Town Secretary under the Town Manager. Following that meeting, West re-instated the original responsibilities of the Town Secretary prior to Smith’s Nov. 15, 2012 e-mail to the staff.

“At this time, I haven’t seen the complaints and they haven’t had any impact on the town,” said West.

“The mediation process should be determined in 30 to 90 days,” said Boyle. “There are no pre-determined results or outcome.”

Discussion of the pending complaints is scheduled to be addressed by the council at its upcoming meeting this Tuesday, Feb. 26.

Argyle residents may know what impact—especially financial—the complaints will have before the May 11 election. The positions of mayor and council Place 2 (currently held by David Wintermute) and Place 4 (currently held by Bonny Haynes) will be on the ballot.

The deadline for filing is March 1. The last day to register to vote is April 11 and early voting is from April 29 to May 7.

So far, no one has filed for any of the positions.

 

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