Roughly one year after Burlington officials put the city's waterfront manager on paid leave during a wide-ranging investigation, a Superior Court judge is scheduled to release documents detailing the probe that led to his suspension and eventual termination.
In two weeks, Superior Court Judge Dennis Pearson will release most of the documents related to the ongoing fracas involving waterfront manager Adam Cate, the city's Parks & Recreation Commission, Parks & Recreation Director Wayne Gross, Mayor Bob Kiss and Chief Administrative Officer Jonathan Leopold and his assistant Ben Pacy.
William Rasch, a union steward within the Parks Department, took the city to court earlier this year after the city denied him access to some documents related to the Cate investigation. Leaked versions of the commission's investigation, which largely appeared to clear Cate and put the blame on the Kiss administration, found their way into the Burlington Free Press.
“Based upon published accounts based upon a leaked copy of the Park Commission’s findings, conclusions, and decision the Parks Commission whitewashed Mr. Cate’s wrongdoing, even though it was admitted, because it furthered the parochial interests of the department in a dispute with City Hall,” argued Rasch's attorney John Franco in his brief to the court earlier this year.
Pearson agreed with Franco, noting that only a near-complete release of the records in question can clear the air. Pearson said he did redact some information from the records—largely names of subordinate employees caught up in the turmoil. He is also withholding some documents entirely, though he did not indicate what those records could contain.
"The bits and pieces that have already been 'leaked' to the press or public simply confuse the issues, lead to innuendo rather than knowledge, and detract from a fuller public understanding of the matters raised," writes Pearson in his ruling.
The city is reviewing Judge Pearson's ruling and has not yet determined if it will appeal the decision, noted Joe Reinert, assistant to the mayor.
Pearson twice noted in his decision that Kiss' decision not to reappoint Gross as director had also piqued public curiosity about how the city was being governed. And, he said, the public's right to know trumps the protection to privacy afforded to Cate and the parks commission.
Cate is amply defended in the documents collected by the city, notes Pearson, and though some of the information may be "highly sensitive or invasive," none was likely to prove "unduly embarrassing."
"Especially viewed through the lens of subsequent events — i.e., the Mayor's recent decision not to re-appoint long-time Parks Director Wayne Gross, who made the original disciplinary decision regarding Mr. Cate, which was then reviewed, and modified by the Parks Commission after an evidentiary hearing in executive session—there is significant public interest of the citizens of the City in gaining further information about, and insight into the administration of City business regarding supervisory policies and practices; the issue of adequate controls over City monies; and adequate controls over City personal property including cell phones and laptop computers issued to City employees," writes Pearson.
"There may also be genuine public interest in the issue of how, and under what circumstances the Commission can trump the disciplinary decisions of the employer, i.e. the City administration."
At issue was whether Rasch, a city employee and union official whose emails Cate had read and printed, could receive documents created by the Parks & Recreation Commission during its investigation, including its final report in which they reinstated Cate to his job.
Gross fired Cate last June after he was caught reading employee emails and lying about it to city investigators. Police also investigated Cate after he told an employee to hide money from a city-owned safe. Cate appealed Gross’ decision to the Parks & Recreation Commission, which conducted its own probe and reinstated Cate on November 20.
The commission reinstated Cate and put him on probation. He was fired earlier this year. Gross declined to say what prompted Cate’s removal, citing personnel policy.
Read the full decision by clicking this link: Download Rasch Decision.