by Carla Occaso
MONTPELIER — Gwendolyn Hallsmith, former planning director, was the final witness to testify at the impartial grievance hearing in City Council Chambers on November 18. This was a continuance of the supreme-court ordered proceeding held November 9. This hearing Hallsmith fought to have, and finally got, following her termination by City Manager William Fraser in November 2013.
If hearing officer Michael Marks of Chittenden County sides with Hallsmith, she could be reinstated and get back pay. Hallsmith was making $64,000 per year, she wrote in an email to The Bridge. If he he finds the City had justifiable reasons to fire Hallsmith, the City is out over $95,000 in legal costs spent on this case (over three fiscal years).
The personnel hearing was made public at Hallsmith’s request, it was said during the hearing.
Fraser fired Hallsmith because, according to court documents, “Hallsmith’s acrimonious and insubordinate behavior gave it (the City) justifiable cause for termination.” Hallsmith argued those accusations are a ruse to cover up the real reason for her firing, which is her frequent instances of speaking out about public banking.
Hallsmith contends the underlying reason she was fired was because the mayor was out to get her because he is a lobbyist representing the private banking industry. However, during over five hours of testimony, during which Hallsmith spoke on her own behalf, little was said about public banking except how, on one occasion, she spoke at a conference about public banking and helped the other speaker run a slide show. She also mentioned that, at her hiring, she asked for extra vacation time away from her job as a city employee to talk about her books and do speaking engagements on economic development, including ideas about public banking.
Most of the topics aired during the hearing were about how she could not get along with members of the planning commission, members of the city council, the mayor, the city manager and at least two of her subordinates. Hallsmith said it was they who could not get along with her because they lacked understanding about city planning and the underlying legal infrastructure. She called planning commissioners “dysfunctional” and self serving. She said some of her subordinates did not perform up to her standards, so she ran into conflict with them, which required mediation. She said the city manager only fired her because of pressure from the mayor and a city council member. Another major conflict was that she shared edited sections of confidential emails with the Times Argus in the fall of 2013 sent to her from Fraser and Mayor John Hollar.
The hearing officer will make his decision known at a later date.