Winooski City Manager Joshua Handverger is officially without a job after the City Council ratified their vote to fire him, Tuesday night.
The council made its decision during what was supposed to be the first night of a public hearing in which Handverger would have laid out his case to keep his job, but Handverger was not there, and neither was his attorney, John Franco. Franco sent a letter to the council on Tuesday morning, explaining that they objected to the way the council handled the firing process and to the fact that the hearing was taking place on the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah. Handverger was in Massachusetts celebrating the holiday with his family, explained Franco.
The city offered to move the hearing to a later date only if Handverger was willing to drop his argument that any action taken after Oct. 1, the day his "at will" status comes to an end, would require a different procedure.
Members of the city council moved into executive session during Tuesday's meeting to determine if they could move forward without Handverger or Franco present. After 45 minutes the council emerged and Mayor Michael O'Brien read a written statement explaining how the council was moving forward.
"First I want to apologize that this meeting is taking place on this Jewish holy day," O'Brien read from the statement.
City Council members then had a chance to comment. Deputy Mayor Katherine Picard and councilor Jodi Harrington again voiced their objections to how the process was being handled. In the end the council voted 3 to 2 to ratify a resolution it passed last Monday, which ended Handverger's employment.
Franco says Handverger was relieved by the council's action because it clears the way for the case to be heard in court. Franco plans to sue the city and demand Handverger get his job back. The grounds for the case will state that the city violated the law by not following proper procedure to fire Handverger. He says there may also be grounds to sue based on religious discrimination, or creation of a hostile work environment, because the city held the hearing on the Jewish holiday.
Mayor O'Brien says he is confident the city followed proper procedure.
"We've talked to not only our city attorney but several attorneys and from what I understand we have gone down the proper road," he said after the council's decision.
While Handverger may be relieved his case can move to court, city employees say they are relieved they can go back to work without Handverger as their boss.
"We're absolutely thrilled," said Mary Beth Boe, and administrative assistant in the Winooski Police Department. "It's been a long time getting to this point. We just feel like we can move forward now, it's just, you know, we're elated! It's going to be very jubilant at work tomorrow."
The city council will have to move forward now with finding a replacement for Handverger. There will be a hiring committee to examine possible candidates, but in the end it's the council that will make the final decision on who to hire.
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