2016-03-17 / News

Health and welfare director could be out of a job

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – The director of the health and welfare department, Vicky Edgerly, has been placed on paid administrative leave pending a citywide department reorganization that may result in the elimination of her position. City Manager James Bennett said the paid leave is not related to her performance or abilities, and is a typical practice when employees are facing the possibility of losing their employment.

“Any time you have an employee who may be working under duress, knowing that their position might be getting eliminated, it’s just a best practice to place them on administrative leave,” Bennett said.

Bennett first presented the reorganization plan to the personnel committee last week, and the proposal will be discussed at the committee’s Thursday, March 17 meeting. If approved, the plan would save the city $177,000 a year. The reduced costs, however, have not been incorporated into the budget proposal Bennett submitted to the city council, because the changes have not gone into effect, he said.

If approved, the number of city departments would be reduced from 18 to 11, but only two administrative positions would be eliminated – the director of health and welfare, and a deputy fire chief.

Instead of having a fire chief and three deputy chiefs, Bennett is proposing that there be only three chiefs in the fire department – a chief, deputy chief and assistant chief. If acting Chief Scott Gagne is approved to be the city’s next fire chief, then Edgerly would be the only employee to be laid off. However, if the council chooses to hire a new chief from outside, then “that could be an issue,” Bennett said.

Edgerly didn’t respond to requests for comment, but on Facebook last week, she posted that she was “in shock with emotions ranging from sadness, anger and relief.”

Edgerly, who has worked for the city for more than 27 years, posted, “I understand that many municipalities prefer to keep administrative costs low and client costs high because they get reimbursement from the state for client costs. They think they save money but it often backfires … They don’t realize that the caseload is reduced because we spend so much time making sure that clients are directed to appropriate resources and required to do what they can to become self-sufficient.”

Bennett said Edgerly’s absence from the department should not affect services because the other two employees, Kristen Barth and Katie Duross, are proficient with the city’s process for delivering services. Bennett noted that the department ran without any issues in Edgerly’s absence during her recent vacation.

If the department of health and welfare is eliminated, Bennett said the health services would be provided through the code enforcement office, with director Roby Fecteau serving the state-mandated role of health officer. Some of the welfare services would be provided at city hall under the direction of the city manager’s office.

Bennett said the community development and planning offices will become part of the economic development office, and the engineering office will be absorbed as part of public works.

Bennett said if the reorganization is not approved, then Edgerly will return to work. Edgerly posted that she is only two years away from being able to retire.

Bennett did not elaborate on whether Edgerly would be offered an early retirement offer or severance package if her position is eliminated.

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