Politics

Board fires Rutland Town administrator for ‘gross misconduct’

Rutland Town
The five-member Rutland Town Selectboard. From left: Chris Kiefer-Cioffi, Joseph Denardo, Chairman Josh Terenzini, Mary Ashcroft and John Paul Faignant. File photo by Alan J. Keays/VTDigger

RUTLAND TOWN — The Selectboard voted unanimously Monday night to fire suspended Town Administrator Joseph Zingale, citing “gross misconduct” and “insubordination” in the motion to terminate his employment, “effective immediately.”

Zingale, reached after the meeting, said he’s considering legal action against the town he spent the past three decades serving. He declined to comment further.

Several of Zingale’s family members attended the 10-minute meeting Monday night at the town offices, some leaving with tears in their eyes. Zingale did not attend, saying later that decision was based on the advice of his attorney, Paul Gillies.

Chris Kiefer-Cioffi, a Selectboard member, made the motion to terminate Zingale’s employment, with Joseph Denardo providing the second.

“The Selectboard finds that the gross misconduct and insubordination of Joseph Zingale has
irreparably compromised the Selectboard’s trust in the reliability of Mr. Zingale to perform the duties of town administrator and in his ability to carry out directives of the Selectboard,” Cioffi said in the motion.

“As a result,” she added, “the Selectboard of the town of Rutland hereby terminates Joseph Zingale Jr.’s employment as Rutland town administrator for cause, effective immediately.”

The five-member board then voted unanimously to support the measure.

The meeting Monday was the first public acknowledgment that Zingale’s job was in jeopardy. The board met two nights in a row last week in executive session to discuss “personnel.”

Zingale has said he was suspended late last month after Josh Terenzini, Selectboard chair, came to the town offices to hand him a disciplinary letter to put into his personnel file. After a heated exchange of words, Zingale said, Terenzini told him he was suspended and to leave the building.

A day later, Zingale said, he received a letter from the town saying he had been placed on paid administrative leave pending a termination hearing. It’s not clear if either of the executive sessions last week was that termination hearing. Zingale did not attend either session. He did say both executive sessions dealt with his job status.

Board members wouldn’t confirm the purpose of those executive sessions, other than to say they dealt with personnel matters.

Terenzini started the meeting Monday by handing over the chair’s role for the night to board member John Paul Faignant. Terenzini had done the same prior to the board meeting last week in executive session, saying that Faignant, an attorney and board veteran, had more experience dealing with such matters.

Later in Monday’s meeting Terenzini read from a short statement that talked about the importance of trust between the Selectboard and the town administrator.

“For reasons that I will not divulge out of respect for this process and our town, it is my opinion that the trust this relationship was built on has been severed beyond repair,” Terenzini said, explaining his vote in favor of the motion to fire Zingale.

The board did open Monday’s meeting to public comment, with only one person stepping forward to speak.

“Is there anything that anybody here could say in support of (Zingale) that would change this board’s decision?” Larry Gold asked from the back of the room.

“Sir, we’d be interested in any information you have to offer,” Faignant responded. “We’d be happy to hear anything you have to share with us.”

Gold, owner of Computer-EZ, said he has provided computer support services to the town for many years and described Zingale as professional and easy to work with, always looking out for the best interests of the town and its residents.

Board members then briefly discussed the matter.

Denardo said he was “disappointed” that Zingale did not attend the meeting Monday.

Faignant said he has worked with Zingale for many years during two different stints on the board.

“My view of it is that the relationship cannot succeed going forward. I think Joe recognizes that,” Faignant said. “This isn’t anything Joe doesn’t want to have happen. He had two opportunities to come and talk to us.”

Zingale, speaking after the meeting, took exception to what Faignant said. “I don’t agree with his statement,” he said. “That’s not correct.”

Terenzini, after the meeting, declined to answer questions, repeatedly saying, “No comment” when asked about the issues between Zingale and the board that led to the firing.

Asked who was serving in the role of town administrator with Zingale now out, Terenzini replied that the town had an “active” Selectboard as well as an assistant administrator. He wouldn’t talk about the process for filling the town administrator’s position, saying only there is a regularly scheduled board meeting next week.

Charlene Kolb, who said she is Zingale’s cousin, attended the meeting Monday night to support him. Speaking after the meeting she described him as hardworking, intelligent and “a man of integrity.”

Another man who described himself as a taxpayer, but declined to give his name, said in the parking lot after the meeting that he attended to find out what was going on between the Selectboard and Zingale.

Asked if he got any answers, the man replied, “He wasn’t getting along with his boss, bosses, I guess.”

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Alan J. Keays

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