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Manlius mayor denies department head's claims of hostile workplace

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Manlius mayor denies department head's claims of hostile workplace
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Claims of intimidation, verbal abuse and a fear for safety are made public by a Manlius village employee. Kristen Hansen addressed the Village Board Tuesday, days before she's set to leave her position as Parks and Recreation Director. Hansen says the person to blame for the hostile environment is Mayor Mark-Paul Serafin. The mayor called the way the matter was handled a "kangaroo court on a witch hunt" and says the claims aren't true. Our Sarah Blazonis has more.

MANLIUS, N.Y. -- The board room in the Manlius Village Offices was quiet Wednesday, but the audio record of this week's board meeting shows it was anything but silent Tuesday night.

The target, Mayor Mark-Paul Serafin. Serafin came under fire after Parks and Recreation Director Kristen Hansen addressed the board. Hansen told trustees why she decided to leave the position she's held for two years.

"The mayor began accusing me of disloyalty, making my day to day interaction with him very difficult," said Hansen.

Hansen says she was told who she could talk or sit next to at meetings and told her job was in jeopardy if she re-hired two board members' children as summer workers.

"Words can't really express the hostile work environment I have had to endure being faced with the possible loss of my job. I complied time and time again. In spite of being compliant and never saying 'no,' I was continually accused of being untrustworthy and having ulterior motives."

Hansen says she felt so intimidated that a panic button was installed in her office. The mayor says the devices have been part of building security for a long time.

"I don't want to get into specifics, but you know, intemperate behavior in the board room, you know, people get excited, they get emotive, they say things. I try to maintain a tone and tenor, just focus on our work and be respectful of one another," said Serafin of the claims he created a hostile environment.

At the board meeting, Serafin claimed Hansen told him in a phone conversation that her departure had nothing to do with their disagreements. He also challenged the two complaints of workplace harassment and violence filed against him.

"Some people just are going to be vitriolic and some people are going to just try to take their best shot whenever they can at an elected official," he said.

Hansen told the board she hopes her workplace violence claim helps change working conditions for the co-workers she leaves behind.

Serafin says he's focused on the future of the village.


Hansen's full statement:

I wanted to take this opportunity to address the village board to let you know why I am leaving the Village of Manlius.

Two years ago, when I accepted the position as Parks and Recreation Director, I was thrilled and excited to be returning to the village that helped raise me, to return with the opportunity to give something back to the wonderful people who had such great influence on my personal and academic development. The residents in this village deserve great and innovative recreational opportunities...opportunities I hoped to provide.

For the first few months on the job, I fostered great working relationships with many of the village employees and the Parks and Rec advisory board; it was clear that we were headed in the right direction. Shortly thereafter, for no apparent reason, the mayor began accusing me of disloyalty, making my day-to-day interaction with him very difficult. During meetings, I was instructed as to whom I should sit next to and talk to; restricting my interacting with certain persons he was not happy with. On one occasion my job was even threatened if I re-hired two young F-M students who did great jobs the previous summer simply because they were children of board members. The day-to-day drama and intimidation made me feel I needed approval before befriending anyone, making a very difficult and stressful work environment.

Words can't really express the hostile work environment I have had to endure, being faced with the possible loss of my job; I complied time and time again. In spite of being compliant and never saying "no," I was continually accused of being untrustworthy and having ulterior motives. I constantly felt intimidated.

Dealing with arrogance and intimidation became a daily challenge; I didn't feel safe in my office alone. The comments about my personal life and about other people became intolerable and the last straw was when I was reprimanded about who couldn't hold my child during a village event; clearly, my position became very difficult. I did what I felt I had to do...I started to look somewhere else to continue my career.

I love this area and the people who make it one of the best places to live. My family lives here. I had hoped to eventually send my children through the wonderful F-M schools. My children have developed a close relationship with my parents and it breaks my heart to take them away from them.

I wish to thank this board for your support as well as the Parks and Rec advisory board. Manlius is very fortunate to have such dedicated individuals whose goals are to make the village an even better place to live.

Lastly, I would like to believe that the workplace violence claim I felt compelled to make, together with this statement advising the board of the intolerable workplace environment, that conditions will change for the employees I am leaving behind, many of whom are tolerating similar circumstances. Thank you again to this wonderful village who gave a local kid an opportunity to create some great recreation programs. Unfortunately, it didn't work out. Good luck.

Serafin's full statement:

I am ignoring the entire matter raised by Kristen Hansen for several reasons.

First, the way in which this matter was handled by Trustee Miner is in violation of village law. It was a kangaroo court on a witch hunt. By village law, Trustee Miner had absolutely no authority in this matter. Her actions, her e-mail messages, and her procedural claims seem to me rather amazing coming from someone who is a practicing attorney.

Second, four people expert in assessing complaints of harassment and violence in the workplace have independently evaluated this complaint. Taken at face value without any input from me, all four found that the complaint has no merit as a claim of harassment or violence in the workplace. This reinforces my conclusion that the opinion just expressed by Trustee Miner is the result of a proceeding that was not only illegal but also biased.

Third, in a phone conversation Kristen Hansen after she had given notice, I specifically asked her if her leaving involved in any way our disagreements. She said that while we had butted heads on occasion, she was leaving because of a favorable job offer. This statement was made after she had filed the complaint, but before I was aware of it. This devious and duplicitous behavior does not reflect well on either her truthfulness or her intentions in filing the complaint.

Finally, the complaint submitted by Kristen Hansen documents a fundamental disagreement between an employer and an employee over undue influence and meddling by a third party. The inappropriate behavior of Trustee Abdo-Rott is central to this disagreement. Rather than follow my legitimate requests as a mayor supervising a department head, Kristen Hansen repeatedly chose to make excuses for Trustee Abdo-Rott and argue against my requests. Her continuing unhappiness centered on the fact that I didn’t trust her. That she told me one thing in our phone conversation and wrote the opposite thing in the complaint just confirms that my lack of trust was merited.

I strongly believe trustee Abdo-Rott should be held accountable for her unacceptable behavior over a long period of time. She was the reason Kristen Hansen’s predecessor, Jim Raulli, left for other employment, and is clearly party to Kristen Hansen’s departure. I hereby publicly condemn her continued abuse of her power as a Trustee.

Finally, despite the fact that Kristen Hansen has done an outstanding job as a department head, she has been a difficult employee. I wonder whether the Mayor of San Antonio should know about these recent events.

Copies of my statement here and all other documents have also been distributed to the public as I have been making these remarks.

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