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Just before the polls closed on Election Day two years ago, five city department heads wrote a scathing letter to the city’s personnel director claiming that city Councilor Ellen Zoppo had subjected them “to lies, misinformation, innuendos and made-up stories.”
“We believe that this has contributed to a very hostile work environment that should not have been tolerated by any city employee,” said the letter signed by Fire Chief Jon Pose, Comptroller Glenn Klocko, Park Director Ed Swicklas, Police Chief John DiVenere and Jonathan Rosenthal, the city’s economic development director.
They said in the letter that Zoppo, the Democratic Party’s mayoral nominee, had referred to them as the “Fab 5” or the “Fat 5” and “publicly stated that she is going to get us fired for various unwarranted reasons.”
“In addition, she has spread lies and misinformation to the employees who work for and with us,” the letter said.
Calling the situation “intolerable,” the five supervisors asked Personnel Director Diane Ferguson to do something to help.
Here's the letter:
To see the letter much more clearly, go here: Flickr link
City Comptroller Glenn Klocko said Tuesday he signed the letter “slightly kicking and dragging” because he’d heard secondhand “from several different sources the same exact thing” about what Zoppo had been telling people.
“That had to cease,” Klocko said, so he agreed to take what he considered a serious step.
Since the letter, Klocko said he has had “no issues with Councilwoman Zoppo” at all.
“She’s been cordial to me,” he said, and supported his reappointment.
Klocko said that when the five signed the letter, they were worried about retribution against them. That never happened, he said.
“There was no backlash to us,” Klocko said.
He said he suspects the letter “focused her attention” on the problem of talking harshly about city workers and probably helped resolve the situation.
Klocko said he feels “positive” about his relationship with Zoppo these days.
Klocko also said he doesn’t see the letter as meaning too much any longer.
“I dismiss it at this time because it’s the silly season,” Klocko said.
He said that from his point of view, he will work with “whoever the citizens to tell me to” when they vote in November.
Klocko said that he hopes that a decade from now “the Fab 5” can get together and chuckle over the letter they felt they had to write.
“It was a big misunderstanding at the time,” Police Chief John DiVenere said Tuesday.
“Whatever issues there may have been have been resolved,” he said.
DiVenere said that he has confidence in Zoppo now and that he has had no issues with her since the letter was sent in 2005.
11:10 a.m. Update:
Both Park Director Ed Swicklas and Jonathan Rosenthal, the city's economic development director, said they haven't had any problems with Zoppo since writing the letter in 2005.
Pose said the letter speaks for itself.
I haven't heard back from Zoppo or Ferguson.
From Ellen Zoppo, minutes ago:
Why am I not surprised that this letter has surfaced 3 weeks before a primary?
This is a blatant attempt by supporters of Art Ward to discredit me before the primary. There would never be a letter from department heads complaining about Art Ward because he is not capable of holding them accountable, because he does not have a grasp of the issues to know how to hold them accountable. He is more concerned about being their buddy.
This is the same man who is afraid to debate me in public on the issues, but his supporters will dust off a complaint that was found to be without merit two years ago. This is clearly a desperate move by the Ward campaign to keep the focus off the issues and make it personal instead. If Art had the nerve to meet me face-to-face in a debate, we would not have to air these issues via the newspaper.
The city has a talented set of department heads with whom I have good working relationships, and who care about Bristol and do their jobs well. My concern for the taxpayer, and the safety of the line firefighters, as it related to Chief Pose's disregard for policy and procedures set us on a path to confrontation when I was on the Fire Board.
I expect that department heads adhere to a high standard because that is what leadership is all about. It is unfortunate that in Chief Pose's need to go after me, he involved other department heads. Chief Pose's complaint had no merit then, and still doesn't today.
Tom Bentivengo, president of the firefighters union, said that Pose wrote the letter and convinced the other four department heads to sign it.
“He’s behind the whole thing,” Bentivengo said.
He said that “there’s no substance to that letter” and that Pose didn’t like Zoppo because she insisted he follow the correct procedures and policies within city government.
Moreoever, Bentivengo said, Pose is a big supporter for Ward.
“He is his number one backer,” Bentivengo said. “He is his number one advisor.”
In his off-hours, Pose even helped get signatures for Ward, the fire union president said.
He said the problem between Zoppo and Pose began because Pose “has no patience” and did not want to follow the sometimes cumbersome procedures to get new equipment for a fire department that needed updating.
Zoppo “was like guiding him through the process and procedure” of how to get what the department needed, Bentivengo said.
But Pose didn’t listen to her and wound up delaying things by mishandling them in his rush to try to get what the department needed, Bentivengo said.
Pose “started to say Ellen was interfering with him. He wanted to do it his way” and not wait for the proper approvals, Bentivengo said. “He wanted it done today.”
“Everything fell apart” between Pose and Zoppo, he said, because of the chief’s impatience. “He thought it was all her and, of course, it was not.”
About the time of the letter, Zoppo was also holding other department heads to account, Bentivengo said, because they were acting too much like a city manager and not necessarily following procedures. Some were overstepping their roles, he said.
“At that particular time, things got a little shrill,” Bentivengo said. The department heads “were in a panic mind.”
From Art Ward: "I would appreciate it if you were to inform Ms. Zoppo-Sassu and anyone else of the same mindset, that I was not the person to provide you with the letter in question and that I will state, unequivocally, that I did not have any knowledge of it being presented to you.These preconceived rants and rages of Ms. Zoppo-Sassu are completely in concert with the reasons that I don't believe that a debate would provide any positive assurances of respect or decency that the voters might utilize to arrive at their ultimate decision on Primary Day, Tuesday, September, 11."
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