PARIS — A former town bookkeeper who was fired Oct. 4 for failing to return to report to work by a certain date said her attorney would seek an executive session with selectmen.
Paula Locke of Casco had worked for the town for the past five years before being terminated by Town Manager Vic Hodgkins. She has since been hired by the town of Oxford.
Locke contends the firing was the result of a dispute over when she was supposed to return to the job after her vacation. She said she was not given an opportunity to present her case to selectmen in an executive session.
Hodgkins said in the termination letter that the reason Locke was fired is because she didn’t show up for work Sept. 26 “as scheduled.” She came back Oct. 2, the letter said.
“That four-day work absence was not excused or granted,” Hodgkins wrote. “We have had numerous conversations and communications prior to you leaving on vacation in which I informed you, in no uncertain terms, that your request that your vacation time extend beyond September 25 was not approved and that you were required to report to work on the 26.”
Locke said all three weeks of her vacation were approved in January, but Hodgkins later reneged on his approval of her third week.
“I said, ‘I don’t want to be rude to you or anything, but I already bought my tickets,’” she said she told Hodgkins. She said he helped her look for places to go on vacation, including Hawaii.
“You know once you buy tickets, you can’t get your money back,” she said.
In March, Locke retained Norway attorney Alan Perry. She said Perry sent Hodgkins a letter informing him that Locke knew she had three weeks of vacation.
On Sept. 12, Locke left for vacation. She said Hodgkins expected her back on Sept. 26, but she planned to return Oct. 2.
Locke said she told Hodgkins: “’I told you right from the beginning I wasn’t going to be back because I already bought my tickets.’”
Hodgkins disputed that, writing in the termination letter that during their last meeting before Locke departed she confirmed she would return Sept. 26 and she later texted him on vacation that she would return Oct. 2.
Hodgkins wrote that this is “something I had explicitly and repeatedly denied, both in person and in writing. You further did not respond to my return text to you telling you that you were required to return to work on September 26, nor did you call or contact me thereafter. …”
Locke said, “When I was on vacation my phone fell in the water so I couldn’t use it for a few days.” She said Hodgkins “never said, ‘If you don’t come back you will be terminated.’”
In the letter, Hodgkins noted another employee informed her she was to return Sept. 26 and her job was in jeopardy if she did not.
Hodgkins sent Locke written notice on Sept. 27 that he was “contemplating disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment.”
Locke said she thought she would return to work as scheduled Oct. 2.
“I really thought he was going to reprimand me,” she said. “The whole five years I worked here (there was) nothing in my personnel file.”
In his letter, Hodgkins wrote he met with Locke on Oct. 2 to explain her behavior.
“At that meeting, you provided me no information to justify your actions, although you were given a full opportunity to do so,” he wrote.
Locke said Hodgkins put her on administrative leave with pay on Oct. 2, and he wouldn’t answer her as to why.
On Oct. 4, Hodgkins penned the termination letter and sent it in regular and certified mail.
“Your actions represent a defection of duty, gross insubordination, willful misconduct, and overall have led me to have complete loss of trust and confidence in you,” he wrote. “I regret that your actions have required me to make this decision, but I simply will not allow any employee to act in such a manner, particularly one who holds a position of trust within the town.”
Locke said she did not have anything in writing about her administrative leave, nor did she have anything “saying I was entitled to a selectmen executive session.”
“She had a hearing with me about the termination,” Hodgkins said this week. “She had the opportunity to grieve the process in front of the selectboard.”
He said weeks went by and when he didn’t hear anything, he reported the situation to selectmen.
According to Locke, Perry is expected to request an executive session with selectmen. Perry could not be reached for conformation on the session.
Hodgkins has since hired Dawn Waisanen, who started work Nov. 27 and is paid $19 an hour.
And Locke has taken a position at the Oxford Municipal Center.
“I think everything is done for a reason,” she said. “I am much happier here in Oxford.”