HOOKSETT — The Town Council voted 7-2 Wednesday night to uphold discipline leveled against Town Planner Jo Anne Duffy by Town Administrator Dean Shankle for alleged violations of the state Right to Know law and insubordination.
The discipline, which Duffy challenged as being excessive, was in reaction to meetings between town staff, including Duffy, and members of the Planning Board regarding the formation of a sign committee. It calls for daily, hourly educational meetings between Duffy and Shankle that could include homework, written reports and exams.
A noticeably upset Duffy deferred comment to her lawyer, Megan Douglass, who said that she still has to talk to Duffy about what her options, if any, are.
“I am glad it’s over, I think moving forward we can work well together,” Shankle said.
While many councilors, including Chairman James Sullivan, said there was miscommunication on both sides, Sullivan said that did little to absolve Duffy of her responsibility as town planner.
However, Town Councilor David Ross, who voted against upholding the discipline, said he couldn’t support it because it represents, “almost cruel and unusual,” punishment.
“I think it was overly heavy handed, the education portion certainly would be in order, but how it was proposed was out of order. And even if (Shankle) is an educator, that is not his role here,” Ross said.
Calling both Shankle and Duffy valuable town employees, Ross said that despite the issues between the two of them, he hopes they can work together, which would be in the best interest of the town.
However, the majority of the council seemed to think that the daily education was warranted, and does not represent an attempt by Shankle to punish Duffy.
“Department heads are responsible for their particular department. I think the training creates a chance for a closer working relationship between the two. I think the request for the training is warranted, and serves as a vehicle for professional growth,” Councilor Todd Lizotte said.
However, Councilor Susan Orr, who was the second councilor to vote against upholding the discipline, said that she was unhappy with how Shankle handled the punishment and the wording of the discipline itself.
“I support some of the actions, but not all of them. In the letter written by Shankle detailing the discipline, it calls for 8:15 a.m. training, daily, at any place of his choosing, and I am not comfortable with that. He could call the training session anywhere, it could be in his home,” Orr said.
Donald Winterton, who is also a member of the planning board, said that while he was also unaware that any meetings Duffy held violated the Right to Know law, he thinks training is a very light discipline.
“And I am sorry that this had to be debated in public,” Winterton said.
Sullivan said that in his opinion the situation was a result of a lack of effort to communicate on both sides.
“Maybe if you take ownership for those actions, and perhaps apologized, perhaps contrition might have ended the need for further discipline,” Sullivan said.