Vail Daily column: Avon can’t leave fuse to burn
April 23, 2015
Avon's town council might be sitting on a little powder keg.
In mid-March, the councilors received an email from disgruntled town employees that amounts to two pages of complaints about the town manager, Virginia Egger.
The authors are anonymous. Many of the accusations are vague and look exaggerated. Some are more specific, can be investigated and are serious if true.
One alleges sexual harassment. Others claim workplace violations, a hostile work environment, discrimination, mismanagement, high turnover, a sort of kitchen sink of complaints.
Some assertions I haven't seen evidence of in the community. As for a line asserting an "adversarial relationship with the paper," well, that's simply not true.
They say they have begun a conversation with a union about organizing.
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A 2014 employee survey shows a mostly satisfied staff out of 70 who took the survey. The percentage expressing neutral opinions to dissatisfaction runs around 12 percent. Complainers suggest we should see the employee comments, but I put little stock in those for obvious reasons.
As best we can tell so far, between maybe a dozen and two-dozen employees have difficulty with their town manager troubling enough to reach out.
Perhaps more serious, we know at least one department head has formally complained about the town manager, as well.
Now, not liking your boss is hardly news. I'm not always so crazy about mine, and the Vail Daily staff isn't exactly enamored with me at times. This goes with the territory, especially when pushing unpopular changes — kind of the boss' job. And Egger is still new, having begun in 2012.
She appears to get along well with the council, collectively and individually. I don't see them behind closed doors, but at least publicly I haven't picked up signs of the tensions I have seen in boards at odds with their chief executive.
One of the chief complaints is the town manager keeps the council apart from the employees. In municipal government, it's widely accepted that the board oversees policy and direction, while the chief executive handles the staff. Again, this is part of the job.
But to whom do the employees turn when things get more serious? The allegations in the list, and the fact of at least one department head vocalizing complaints, do hint that future steps could well land in a courtroom.
Mayor Jennie Fancher replied to the email three days after receiving it, assuring the authors that the council takes their concerns seriously and pointing out the difficulty in dealing with anonymous communication of largely vague complaints.
Over a month now has elapsed since then without apparent follow-up, and a reporter began looking into this late last week, after learning the department head had issued a more formal spoken complaint to the designated official for these things, the assistant town manager.
We understand the council is likely to take up this ticklish subject at its next meeting Tuesday, appropriately in closed session.
As the person responsible for the Vail Daily as a business, I know how this goes if I receive an email listing allegations of workplace violations including sexual harassment, anonymous or not. There can't be any waiting around, never mind for a month until my schedule clears enough to maybe take a look at it. You can't leave fuses like this to burn.
CIRSA, the town's insurance provider, recently led a workshop for town staff. Part of the training emphasized the need to follow up promptly with this type of complaint, however it may turn out — whether spoken or written, and even if the supervisor only suspects there might be a problem.
These accusations may well prove to be ridiculous, the work of a few rotten apples. There may be merit to some and not so much to others. Maybe they're all true.
The point is the employer — in this case the council — needs to find out now. That's their responsibility to the constituents, the employees and their town manager, too.
It's their job.
Editor and Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 970-748-2920.
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