Last Wednesday, the board of the Vermont State Employees Association, known as the VSEA, sacked executive director Mark Mitchell after 18 months on the job. But on Monday, the board changed course and decided to reinstate him, placing him on paid administrative leave.
The board’s initial 10 to five decision following a seven-hour executive session “blindsided” even some of its members according to headlines in local papers, including Vermont Digger.
After an emergency meeting Monday, the same board reinstated Mitchell to his three-year contract and immediately placed him on administrative leave pending the outcome of an independent investigation.
Discontent has been brewing within the association for some time. Editor and publisher Ann Galloway of Vermont Digger, an independent online investigative newspaper, says trouble began last fall when about six key members of the VSEA staff resigned over policies and proposals that Mitchell instituted.
Galloway says there are hints that Mitchell may have violated labor laws.
One of the two union lawyers making those accusations was named interim executive director of the association during last week’s initial meeting.
During the subsequent meeting, VSEA attorney Mike Casey was removed as interim executive director and replaced by two individuals. Meanwhile, staff attorney Casey has placed a gag order on all VSEA staff, except for the group’s communications director.
A person who answered the phone at the VSEA office said Communications Director Doug Gibson was in a meeting unavailable for comment.
Political Columnist Paul Heintz of the independent Burlington newspaper Seven Days says most of what is known about the situation comes from off the record conversations with those involved, and that many questions remain.
Heintz says VSEA is in turmoil and faces serious struggles as it moves forward.
Anne Galloway is also intrigued that this disruption comes as the union is preparing to enter collective bargaining this August with the Shumlin administration.
According to Vermont Digger, VSEA is Vermont’s second largest union, representing more than 5,000 state employees.