Zoning administrator, town agree to part ways

“The Selectboard wishes to offer you an opportunity to voluntarily resign your employment under a separation agreement.” A separation agreement ends Zoning Administrator (ZA) Daniel Morgan’s 18-month term with the Town of Charlotte. Delivered to Morgan by the Selectboard on Dec. 31 and ratified by the board on Jan. 4, the agreement ends months of back and forth between the ZA and the town over the terms of his employment.

The fourth ZA in seven years, Morgan was hired in the summer of 2018 for several jobs within Town Hall that added up to a full-time position. As ZA, Morgan operated as his own department with quasi-judicial authority; in his other jobs as clerk to the Zoning Board of Adjustment, the town E-911 coordinator, and the sewage control officer, he was under the supervision of Town Administrator Dean Bloch.

The separation agreement between Morgan and the town stipulates that Morgan’s resignation would be effective Jan. 1 pending a formal, irrevocable resignation letter due no later than Jan. 4. Morgan’s paid administrative, which began on Dec. 23, ended at that time.

Under the terms of the separation agreement, Morgan was held to town employment terms and was still under Bloch’s supervision, but he was ordered not to go to work or perform any town work unless specifically directed to do so. Morgan also agreed that he would not communicate with any town personnel unless directed to, and that he would continue to “cooperate and communicate” with the Selectboard as requested.

Morgan received a severance as part of the separation agreement that amounted to three months of regular payroll for 40 hours a week of work, plus $5,000 within 15 days of the agreement’s ratification. He also received payment for unused vacation leave.

The agreement also stipulates that inquiries from prospective future employers will consist of “a letter which states only the dates of employment, positions held, and a copy of the job description for the position.”

On July 24, the Selectboard issued an oral warning to Morgan regarding job performance; prior to this point, his performance reviews were positive. In mid-October of 2020, the Selectboard then issued a written reprimand to Morgan regarding his job performance, of which The Charlotte News obtained a copy. The reprimand cited several areas in which the Selectboard and Morgan’s supervisors said his job performance was not meeting expectations.

Through a letter sent by his legal counsel, employment attorney John Franco, Morgan challenged the written reprimand. The Charlotte News also obtained a copy of this document, which argues that “the Written Reprimand is without legal effect” because the town failed to follow its own personnel policies in warning and issuing the reprimand, and that the reprimand “prejudged the matter in violation of his Loudermill procedural due process rights under the 14th Amendment.” It also states that, despite the town’s assertion that Morgan was not performing to expected standards, “there are no established standards that he is accused of violating…notice of such standards are required for there to be just cause to reprimand him.”

The grievance submitted by Franco also asserts that certain grounds for reprimand cited in the formal complaint against Morgan “would impose de facto standards in contradiction to the requirements of the Planning Act.”

On Dec. 17, after over a dozen executive sessions regarding Morgan’s employment, the town formally withdrew the reprimand. It read that in order to “rule-out any possible ambiguity” regarding employment expectations, the Selectboard had revised the ZA job description with the intent to clarify expectations and improve job performance in the future.

“Therefore, the Selectboard does hereby rescind the written reprimand and it will be expunged from his personnel file and it will not be considered in any later disciplinary matter.” The Selectboard denied Morgan’s request to reimburse his attorney fees.

The formal withdrawal was signed by Selectboard Chair Matt Krasnow and members Jim Faulkner and Louise McCarren. The two other members, Carrie Spear and Frank Tenney, recused themselves from the decision because of a separate matter currently before the Zoning Board Adjustment (ZBA), of which Tenney is the chair. Spear has an application under consideration with the ZBA; at a meeting in December, Morgan said he had put the application in front of the ZBA in the first place due to pressure from Tenney and others on town boards.

Morgan said that he has no comment regarding the reprimand withdrawal or the separation agreement “at the moment.”

At the Jan. 4 Selectboard meeting, the board began plans to refine the job description and pay grade for the new ZA. The Planning Commission nominates applicants for the job and then the Selectboard appoints the person to the position, which is held for three years.

Krasnow wrote in an email to The Charlotte News, “The Selectboard is moving as quickly as possible to fill the position….Hopefully the job will be posted this week. My guess is there will be a different configuration than it is now, but that’s conjecture and is entirely up to the Selectboard to decide.”

At last week’s Selectboard meeting, after accepting Morgan’s resignation, the board approved a familiar face to temporarily hold the job until a permanent replacement is found: Jeannine McCrumb, who last held the position full time in 2015. Morgan’s other responsibilities will be covered by other town employees and volunteers until someone new is hired.