STONINGTON — About 75 people packed Wednesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting to show their support for tree warden and highway department employee Daniel Oliverio, who is the subject of an undisclosed disciplinary action by Barbara McKrell, public works director. In an unexpected twist early in the public comment period, Oliverio resigned his position as tree warden.
First Selectman Rob Simmons said the action against Oliverio is confidential until a resolution is reached and added that a second investigation was also underway concerning McKrell.
Many who spoke in support of Oliverio alleged that the action against him was part of a pattern of unfair labor practices in the town’s highway department that were retaliatory in nature.
Former First Selectman Donald Maranell linked the action against Oliverio to the way the discipline and termination of highway employee Louis DiCesare II was handled. Parts of the DiCesare case are still under arbitration and the matter has cost the town $265,000 so far.
Maranell said there was an appearance that “many of these disciplinary actions are retaliation for reporting the problems in the department to management.”
He also said the number of grievances being generated from the highway department is “an indication of trouble in the present management’s way” of dealing with human resources issues.
Maranell asked for a complete and fair grievance process and said, “If retaliation is the motive for the proposed discipline, action needs to be swift and severe.”
Speaking about his tree warden duties, Oliverio said, “I’ve taken great pride in this volunteer position to which I was appointed. I have taken this job seriously and worked hard for what I feel is an important position in this community... Unfortunately, I’ve learned that no matter how much you try to make a positive impact there will always be people who attempt to do the opposite. I strongly believe the amount of people who want what’s best for the town far outweigh the negative.”
“After much reflection, I have decided to resign as tree warden,” Oliverio said. “As hard as I have worked in this position, I cannot continuously worry that everything I do will cause me to have problems with my employment.”
Seated in the audience were several members of the DiCesare family , including Michelle DiCesare, sister of Louis DiCesare II, who said they “stand with Dan.”
Michelle DiCesare said they did not want the Oliverio family “to go through the same pain, suffering and uncertainty, not knowing when you’re going to work if there’s a target on your back, because unfortunately right now Dan has a target on his back.”
“That is workplace harassment, that is a toxic environment that needs to stop,” DiCesare declared.
Referring to McKrell, Sue Jones, of Pawcatuck, asked how many times grievances needed to be filed before an individual was reprimanded and replaced.
Simmons said the results of both investigations would be made public and he would follow “the orderly process of government.”
Simmons also spoke movingly of his appointment of Oliverio as tree warden and was visibly upset by his statement of resignation.
“I didn’t know he was going to resign tonight and he needs to submit it in writing, but I hope he doesn’t do it but if he does, I will respect his decision,” he said.