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Handverger Under Fire Again

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Joshua Handverger Joshua Handverger

Winooski, Vermont - September 19, 2008

Winooski City Manager Joshua Handverger is facing a revolt and new pressure to resign. This time the call is coming from the city's department heads.

A total of 19 people, including Police Chief Steve McQueen, Deputy Police Chief Rich Benoit, Fire Chief Dave Bergeron and City Attorney Bill O'Brien, signed a letter demanding Handverger's resignation. All the signers met with Handverger, Friday morning, to present the letter.

In it they accuse Handverger of lacking professionalism and maturity, "basic people or managerial skills," and "respect for the City staff, City Council, and the public." They say he has "created an atmosphere of hostility and negativity to a point where" they can no longer work with him.

Handverger said Friday he is "not budging."

This is not the first time there have been calls for Handverger to resign. Residents angry with his handling of personnel issues regarding the police chief and handling of city finances asked for Handverger to resign or be fired.

The city council conducted an evaluation of Handverger's work, and spent $5,700 on an investigator to look into complaints against him. In July the council decided 3-2 to keep Handverger. At that time the council started working on a plan to smooth things over in the city.

"But I think this throws a different light on the whole thing and it's something that we have to take seriously," said Mayor Mike O'Brien, in response to seeing the letter.

O'Brien says it is hard to ignore the call of this many employees who claim they collectively have more than 250 years of service to Winooski. He says the council has to seriously consider how to go forward from here when it meets Monday night.

The mayor is one of the people who voted to get rid of Handverger, but when asked if the manager should resign O'Brien said, "that's something that Josh has to decide for himself. I hope that Josh looks at it and considers what is in the best interest of not only himself but the city of Winooski."

Councilor Erik Heikel, considered a swing vote on this issue, said he also told Handverger to think about if he truly can, or wants to, continue to work with these employees.

Handverger is getting support though from at least two council members. Jodi Harrington said she is shocked people can't come forward in a "normal adult way." She said she still has not seen a concrete, fact-based complaint against Handverger.

Deputy Mayor Katherine Picard is also standing by Handverger, saying she is disappointed that the department heads did not follow the normal procedure of bringing their complaints before the full council.

Handverger brought Picard into the meeting with the department heads Friday morning.

"I asked if they would please be professional and work with Josh," she said she told them.

Picard said she does not think Handverger should have to resign.

"He was hired to do a job and he's doing the job," she said. "Unfortunately people are being held accountable and my opinion is they don't like it."

The department heads did not want to comment Friday. They plan to all be present Monday night at the City Council meeting.

Bianca Slota - WCAX News

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