May 24, 2018
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RSU 67 attorney stands behind superintendent in labor complaint

By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff

LINCOLN, Maine – The attorney representing RSU 67 in a complaint before the Maine Labor Relations Board is as dismissive of accusations that Superintendent Denise Hamlin tried to intimidate union members and otherwise violate state law as Hamlin was earlier this week.

A copy of the response to the complaint the Maine Education Association filed with the board shows that school board attorney Peter C. Felmley urges the board to reject the complaint filed on behalf of Ella P. Burr School second-grade teacher Jodi Bisson last month.

Felmley’s response states that Hamlin and the RSU 67 board of directors acted in good faith and that elements of Bisson’s complaint should be deferred because they are part of other union complaints against Hamlin and RSU 67 and because an arbitration session has been set for late July.

However, according to the response document, RSU 67 officials admitted that “consistent with standard practice,” Bisson was placed on administrative leave with full pay pending the outcome of “an investigation into allegations of misconduct” for about two weeks last fall.

“Due to the nature of the allegations against Ms. Bisson, she was asked not to be on school grounds (including the school soccer fields) until the investigation was completed,” Felmley’s response states.

In the union complaint, attorney Shawn Keenan accused Hamlin of wrongfully denying Bisson access to school property — including Bisson’s daughter’s soccer game. The complaint also accuses Hamlin of recognizing Bisson’s union representative, teacher Holly Leighton, as only a “guest and only allowed to speak out of courtesy” during a disciplinary meeting.

Felmley’s response does not reveal the allegations or how they related to Bisson’s access to school grounds.

The union complaint also accuses Hamlin of having transferred Bisson involuntarily to another assignment, of rejecting grievances because they weren’t on proper forms and of “interrogating” other union members to discourage them from discussing Bisson’s disciplinary issue.

These actions undermine union activities as permitted by law and represent violations of civil laws as well, Keenan said.

In a statement released late last week, Hamlin said she was confident that the accusations would prove to be “frivolous and thinly-veiled attacks on the superintendent and school board. We are confident that when the facts of the matter are presented they will be seen for what they are.”

The union might gain a substantial victory over the regional school unit because Felmley’s response got to the labor relations board a day past its deadline, said Marc Ayotte, the board’s executive director.

Keenan said he plans to file a motion seeking the response’s dismissal on those grounds. If the board agrees to Keenan’s motion, Ayotte said, the labor board would accept Keenan’s complaint as representing what happened between Hamlin and Bisson and rule on whether Hamlin’s actions in Keenan’s version of events violated state labor laws.

However, Felmley will have a chance to file a countermotion to Keenan’s motion to dismiss, arguing why a dismissal should not occur, Ayotte said.

No hearing date for Bisson’s complaint has been set. The nine-member labor relations board is appointed by the governor, confirmed by the Legislature and meets as needed – usually every few months, Ayotte said.

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