The case against a municipal employee brought up on charges of misconduct and incompetence will go to a hearing on Friday, but, in a rare move, the hearing will be heard publicly.
Linda Norris, the Adult Day Care program supervisor in the Town of East Hampton's Human Services Department and a Montauk resident, will get a chance to defend what her attorney Thomas Horn calls "a 17-year unblemished record." The hearing is scheduled in East Hampton Town Hall at 10 a.m.
She was suspended for 30 days without pay on Oct. 10, the same day another department employee, Sheila Carter, a senior bus service supervisor, was given the same suspension, though they were not related, Horn said. Norris has not been allowed to return to work, and remains suspended, now with pay.
Under Section 75 of State Civil Service Law, employees against whom charges have been filed have the right to a hearing, though the municipality picks the hearing officer, who makes a recommendation to the town board, which makes the final decision. In this instance, Eileen A. Powers, a Riverhead attorney, was appointed to preside over the hearing.
"The only thing under the control of the employee is whether to make it public or not," said Horn, who is also working on the case with Lawrence Kelly, of Bayport, a former federal prosecutor who has represented several people suing the town.
"You’ve already been smeared, one of the few things you can do is dare that the People make the charges publicly known," Horn said. "One of our hopes is that —to use a phrase from Watergate — sunlight’s the best disinfectant."
Five misconduct charges and three incompetence charges were lodged against Norris.
Horn outlined some of the accusations, which include allegations that Norris treated subordinate employees "in an abusive, disrespectful and threatening manner" and was "demeaning and belittling subordinate employees, directing a search of a subordinate's personal property, a handbag, without authorization."
Other accusations include threatening subordinates with the elimination of the Adult Day Care functions and their jobs if they complained to the department head, as well as failing to implement a new transportation program in January 2012.
But, Horn claims the allegations filed fail to answer "who, what, where, when and why," despite the law requiring them to be specific. "It's very difficult to defend such vagueness," he said.
The charges include violation of town policy, conduct unbecoming a town supervisory employee, insubordination, failure to perform duties, acting beyond the scope of her authority, unacceptable performance of supervisory responsibilities, and failure or inability to perform duties.
If found guilty of the charges, Norris stands to lose her job — termination was the proposed penalty proposed when the charges were filed by Diane Patrizio, the department director since 2010.
Horn is no stranger to town procedures and litigation. Now a Sag Harbor-based attorney, Horn worked for the town for two decades and won a case against the town before retiring. Earlier this year, he represented Larry Penny on a suspension. An agreement was reached where the charges were dropped and Penny, the longtime director of Natural Resources, retired.
Along with Kelly, Horn also represents Jorge Kusanovic, who works for the town's park department for 16 years and is suing the town for $3 million on allegations that he was treated unfairly for a decade because he is Latino.
Horn also represented two Montauk restaurants embroiled with the town; the Surf Lodge and the Sloppy Tuna.