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Windsor Clerk Alleges Gender Bias in Town Government

  • Windsor Town Clerk Sandra Micka cross references land records at her office in Windsor, Vt., on Sept. 5, 2012. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Windsor Town Manager Tom Marsh, at the Windsor Town Offices Tuesday, July 5, 2016. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Correspondent
Friday, January 26, 2018

Windsor — Long-standing disagreements between Town Clerk Sandra Micka and Town Manager Tom Marsh over staffing and pay erupted in public this week when an attorney representing Micka scolded the Selectboard and administration for its handling of the situation.

At a Windsor Selectboard meeting on Tuesday night, Montpelier-based attorney Charles Merriman said Micka is the target of gender bias in pay and has had a personality dispute with Marsh that the board needs to address.

“The town manager alluded to the fact there is a clash of personalities between him and my client,” Merriman said, according to a Windsor On Air video of the meeting, which included members of the Budget Committee. “That clash is a consequence of disappointment on behalf of my client with decisions he has made and there is some truth to that. But there also has been behavior (by the) town manager that is detrimental to the town. I am asking you to recognize that both parties own some of the conflict.”

Merriman urged the board to rectify the situation by having Marsh attend “sensitivity training” and also said the Selectboard should regard the clerk as a “peer-elected official,” not a staff employee, in Town Hall.

Marsh didn’t dispute Merriman’s claim that there has been disagreement and said it goes back to 2010, a year before Marsh arrived, when then-Town Manager Steve Cottrell decided to close the town offices on Fridays, cutting Micka’s hours and pay.

Marsh also said at the meeting that even though the cuts were made eight years ago, residents who call after hours to the Treasurer’s Office are told the office is closed on Fridays because of budget cuts.

“I have comments from people (that) they don’t appreciate that message,” Marsh said.

The message has been changed because a call Thursday to the of fice when it was closed only listed the hours its is open and there is no mention of it being closed because of budget cuts.

While Merriman said the personality clash is one problem, the bigger issue is pay disparities between departments run by men and women.

According to Merriman, who said he did not fully analyze the budget numbers, departments run by Micka and the town treasurer, Deb Ouellette, have been receiving 3 percent wage increases, while the departments run by males, including recreation, police, fire and the town manager, received considerably more in 2017.

“You do have a gender discrimination pay issue,” Merriman told the Selectboard.

As long as he has been in Windsor, Marsh said at the meeting, there have been complaints about pay and staffing in the offices of the town clerk and town treasurer.

“It is presented as if I don’t appreciate the level of work done in that office. Year after year this comes up,” Marsh said. “It creates acrimony in the office.”

With the town clerk’s position up for election in March, Marsh asked the board to give a clear job description along with expected staffing and pay for the coming years, “so that anyone running for office would have a clear understanding of what help may or may not be available and what pay raises may or may not exist,” he said.

Marsh said on Thursday that after he was hired, he was asked by the town clerk to restore her hours to 40 from 35 with a corresponding increase in pay, but he declined.

“I said I think the hours are fine and you are fairly compensated based on similar towns and similar work requirements,” Marsh said on Thursday.

Micka on Thursday said she now earns $46,000 a year, which is about $2,400 more than what she was making before her hours and pay were cut in 2010.

“It has taken all these years to get back up to where I was,” said Micka, who has been town clerk for 18 years.

Micka — who submitted a resignation letter in 2012 when the cuts to her pay and hours were not reinstated but rescinded it weeks before it was to take effect — said on Thursday she has not decided whether she will seek another three-year term. The filing deadline is Monday.

“It has just been one conflict after another,” Micka said.

Ouellette, the town treasurer, declined to comment on Thursday.

Marsh said on Thursday the pay increase for all department heads, including town clerk and treasurer, was 2.5 percent last year and will be 3 percent for the coming fiscal year. The line-item numbers for other departments will appear higher because they include more than one employee, according to Marsh.

Micka said the 2.5 percent figure is “not true” and though her salary has gone up just $2,400 since 2011, she said other department heads, including the male-led offices of town manager, police, fire and recreation, have received total wage increases of at least $10,000 and in some cases almost $29,000 over that same period, according to the numbers from the town’s payroll account.

“I was hoping to get a percentage increase equal to what the males are getting,” Micka said. “But they turned it down.”

Micka also said the while the job states 35 hours a week, she often works longer hours. In the months before the 2016 national election, Micka said some days she worked 16 hours.

At the Tuesday meeting, after Merriman had spoken for about 10 minutes and suggested that Marsh had encouraged other residents in town to run for town clerk, which the town manager denied doing, Selectboard Chairman Rich Thomas banged his gavel to end discussion on the topic.

“We appreciate your time and now we are going to end this and move forward,” Thomas told Merriman.

After Merriman left, accusing the board of refusing to engage in a meaningful discussion to resolve the disagreements, resident Mike Quinn came forward demanding Merriman be allowed to continue. At that point, Thomas and Selectboard member Heather Prebish, the only woman on the five-member board, exited the room.

Thomas on Thursday said he decided to put an abrupt end to the discussion when his fellow board members said they had “heard enough.”

“It was disruptive and I didn’t think it was the right time,” Thomas said about the discussion. “We weren’t prepared for it. It sort of came out of left field.”

He called Merriman’s approach “antagonistic.”

“I think the board was disappointed in the approach,” Thomas said.

Thomas said more conversation on the issue is likely but he couldn’t say what form that discussion might take.

Merriman, in an interview on Wednesday, said that under the town’s charter, responsibility for setting the town clerk’s wages rest with the Selectboard, not the town manager.

“He has no jurisdiction over that position,” Merriman said.

As for Micka, she doesn’t see a change in attitude from town officials.

“I would have liked to have had some support from the town manager and Selectboard, but I guess that won’t happen,” Micka said on Thursday.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.