WATERFORD – After listening to townspeople say the deal with Rockie Graham is that she’s tough, but not rude, selectmen backed off from firing the transfer station manager over her disputed bad manners. Instead, they put her on probation for a month.
“If she’s a nice and sweet person, people will take advantage of her,” Bruce Kovacs said, standing up for Graham at a public hearing selectmen held Wednesday morning to discuss Graham’s job.
Several residents agreed that Graham’s vinegary personality takes getting used to, and that she’s far from a paragon of charm and demureness. But they said running a dump is a hard job, with patrons often doing the wrong thing and sometimes being belligerent as well.
A sizable group of people came out to support the transfer station manager, calling the facility cleaner, neater and more organized than ever before under Graham’s direction.
The public hearing was a result of selectmen suspending Graham without pay May 15 after a dump customer accused Graham of yelling at him and calling him a thief.
The man allegedly tried to salvage some metal roofing from his friend’s truck when he saw that it was going to be thrown away. Graham interceded, saying the metal was the town’s property and taking it would be a theft.
“I said when it comes through the gate, it belongs to the town,” Graham said, adding that the rule was given to her by Selectman Whizzer Wheeler, who corroborated this later.
Richard Bush, though, described it more as, “She came across the yard screaming at me.”
Wheeler said that last year Graham signed a document stating she would be terminated the next time town officials received a complaint about her abusive language. Graham signed the letter, but refuted the charges of abuse.
Selectmen brought in two parties, including Bush, who testified they had received some of Graham’s stinging treatment after displeasing her at the dump by doing such things as accidentally throwing a piece of metal into the compressor.
A letter by resident Jeff Millett was also read aloud. After describing a scene of trying to get rid of malodorous cardboard ruined by a cat and then getting yelled at by Graham, Millet wrote, “I incurred the wrath of the attendant. … She could have been a little more reasonable.”
But such testimony was offset by townspeople saying the allegations were not strong enough to discount the job Graham has done at the transfer station, which recently received the highest ratings of any department by a state inspector.
“I’ve never seen one run better than this one, it looks better, it’s cleaner and is more organized,” Chester Gillingham said, speaking about Waterford’s station.
Wheeler agreed to the descriptions of a class-A dump. “I don’t know how to clone Rockie and also how to gag her,” he said.
Selectmen agreed to reinstate Graham, but will observe her for 30 days, and if she is seen having another outburst, Wheeler said she could lose her job.