Wednesday, March 10, 2010

So Long, Farewell and Kiss My True Grits!

MNYT wonders if that's what Barbara Bellis-simo Mattina was thinking as she departed 155 Washington Avenue for the last time as a Village employee back in January. 

Mrs. Mattina was raised and educated in the Incorporated Village of Mineola and started working for VOM in 1974.  By all accounts, she was a dedicated employee with a very strong work ethic.  You know the type:  coughing and sneezing, but reporting to work anyway because that is what you do.  (People like that are SO annoying, don'tcha think?)

To quote a recent letter to the Mineola Ame-rican acknowledging her retirement, " . . . she was totally dedicated to her duties and the people of Mineola.  She was someone you could always count on.  She seldom took time off and was always there when you needed her."  ( )

Whether her dedication was inherited or learned, there is no doubt the apple didn't fall far from the family tree, because Barbara Mattina's father was the late Anthony Bellissimo, well-known for his community involvement with Kiwanis, the Mineola Republican Club, Mineola's Fire Department and the Board of Trustees - to name a few.  Tony Bellissimo was not a slacker and apparently, neither was his daughter.( )

As a matter of fact, Mrs. Mattina was the subject of a Mineola Ameri-can article back in 1999 entitled "25 Wonderful Years."  At the office she was feted with a tiara, sash and balloons in honor of what was by then 1/4 of a century of civil service with the Village of Mineola. ( )

Here are quotes from some of her colleagues that were part of the article:  "You can put her in any department and she's excellent at it.  She is well liked by everyone in the village."  And, "She likes helping senior citizens and those in need.  She really likes what she does."

Most resounding is the subject's own take on the situation:  "This is a wonderful place to work.  It's like working in a little family."

Sounds ducky.  So what happened?  Why would someone who clearly loved the community she grew up in; who enjoyed working with the public (and let's face it - "the public" can be real ball busters); who derived a true sense of pleasure from assisting other people, leave her position the very first day she was able to retire with her full union benefits?  And without any fanfare or retirement luncheon.  Surely somebody who has been a faithful civil servant to VOM for over 35 years deserves some kind of formal recognition.

You'd think.

Let us suppose, gentle reader, that for the last seven years of your tenure with the Incoporated Village of Mineola you'd been subjected to a hostile work environment.  Suppose you were harassed by your boss.  Now suppose you complained to his boss and nothing was done.  Suppose that even after you transferred out of the department, the harassment continued and was extended to your co-workers as well.  Suppose that with only about 6 weeks to go before your retirement date, you were brought up on trumped up charges that were subsequently dropped because they were completely without merit.

Would you want ANYTHING from such people?

Because that's exactly what Mrs. Mattina's work life was like.  And it all began with a slip of the lip. 


The day she let slip to her Building Department co-worker that she knew she was "doin' the nasty" with their boss was the beginning of the end.  Think about it:  if information like that got out it could cost boss man and his gal pal/secretary their jobs and jettison his marriage.
Bit of a sticky wicket, that.

So what's a "gentleman" to do?  How about embark on a campaign of harassment to make Mrs. Mattina's life miserable?

And when this harassment was brought to the attention of the big guy in charge, what do you suppose he did?  You might expect him to fire the boss and transfer the gal pal because such a relationship is totally
inappropriate in a government agency.  It compromises the integrity of the department and leaves the village open to a possible sexual harassment lawsuit down the line.  Add to that the creation of a hostile work environment towards Mrs. Mattina and the behavior crosses the line from merely inappropriate to COMPLETELY EGREGIOUS.

But the mayor's solution to this problem was to transfer Barbara Mattina from the Building Department where she had already worked for seven years, and send her back to the Justice Court.  No matter that she had done nothing wrong or that she had not violated the trust of the village taxpayers.  It also didn't matter that she had more years in that department than both the supervisor and the other secretary combined, or that she had a wealth of knowledge that neither of them had.  What mattered was keeping Building Superintendent Dan Whalen happy.


Why would the mayor allow the Building Superintendent to keep his job under such circumstances?  It's not as if he had a long history with the Village as somebody who had worked his way up the ranks.  Whalen was a newcomer with very limited experience in the field and with dubious qualifications.  He exercised extremely poor judgement when he decided to embark on a deeply personal relationship with his subordinate (for whom he managed to obtain a 15.48% pay increase in 2004 that was followed by another 9% at the end of that year).  But his further decision to engage in a campaign of harassment and intimidation against Mrs. Mattina was unconscionable.  And the only other person who holds more accountability than Danny B is the mayor - for allowing it to go on despite the complaints he received from village taxpayers, not to mention the employees union.

What, exactly, does Mr. Whalen bring to the table?  Or maybe it's what's under the table that counts. . .

The situation got so bad that Mrs. Mattina had to report to work early every day so she could be escorted up to the second floor to punch in her time card, in the event that her former boss was there.  And even though Whalen was instructed to maintain his distance from Mrs. Mattina, he always managed to find a way to cross paths with her when court was in session.  Back and forth through the Justice Court offices he would go.  Back and forth.  To and fro.  Just to make his presence known.

But the lady stuck it out with grit and determination.  What else was there to do?  Give in and throw in the towel?  Should she have caved, quit the Village and lost out on benefits she had worked so long for?  Should she have given in to thuggery?  Because that's what all of this really amounts to.  Thuggery.

Thugs rule by intimidation.  They steal what isn't theirs to have.  And it doesn't have to be something like money or jewels.  They can steal your pride, your sense of self-worth, your sense of safety and security. 

They can try to anyway.  For instance, according to a written complaint filed by Mrs. Mattina and one of her co-workers, as they were heading towards the door at the end of one work day they encountered Whalen coming from the opposite direction.  He then pulled out his cell phone as if he'd gotten a call and made a disparaging remark about them as he passed by, referring to them as "a herd of cows."

Their word against his.  But if you've ever had any dealings with Whalen, you know that (a) he's not a gentleman and (b) he is a coward.  If he called these women "a herd of cows" to their faces, that would have been a direct verbal assault.  But he did it in a sneaky, cowardly way.  And even when these women filed complaints in writing with the village they received no support.  Can you possibly imagine what the response was?  You really can't because nobody is that creative.

Except for the Village's attorney.  Because as usual, John Spellman was there to clean up Danny B's mess.  Attorney Spellman's response?  The reported incident happened after 4:30 - "after working hours" - so there was no action for the Village to take.  It didn't matter that it occured within the confines of Village property and only a few minutes after the official end of the work day.  It didn't matter that a complaint had been filed with the Teamster's Union and that THEY had instructed these women to put the Village on notice.  No siree.

You see, John Spellman is the Teflon® coating to Danny B's frying pan.

So instead, Mrs. Mattina put in for an early retirement and counted down her days.  Not because she's filthy stinkin' rich and never has to work another day in her life.  Not because she didn't enjoy helping the public any more.  Not because her job was no longer challenging.  But because life is too short to allow people to shit on your head and call it rain any longer than you absolutely have to.

But even then, the harassment didn't stop.

For some reason the Village Clerk decided to get in on the action, grilling the Justice Court supervisor when on the video surveillance system he saw Mrs. Mattina standing in front of the building on one of her union mandated breaks.  Weeks later he filed charges against Mrs. Mattina for leaving her post early and without permission - accusing her of putting the villagers at "jeopardy" by leaving the Justice Court unstaffed.  In the meantime, with her supervisor's prior knowledge and permission, Mrs. Mattina had worked through her lunch so she could keep a medical appointment .  And the office was not left unmanned.  There were two other workers there.

Thankfully, the United Public Service Employees Union stepped in and got these ridiculous charges squashed.   But again, it cost the taxpayers because Spellman had to get involved to represent the Village.  All because the Village Clerk had to try to stick it to Barbara Mattina.  And to what end?  For what purpose?  What was he trying to prove?

And this just a few weeks before Christmas.  Ah, the spirit of giving !! 

So adieu Barbara Bellissimo Mattina.  Stomp the muck off your boots and forget 155 Washington Avenue.  At least forget the last six or seven years.  There's life beyond Mineola.  And if you do decide to return to the workforce, whoever is smart enough to hire you will be greatly rewarded.  And maybe, maybe some day the Village taxpayers will recognize just how reprehensible certain of their civil servants are, and how badly they're being hosed by certain of the people in charge.  Maybe then they'll demand a change.

In the meantime Mrs. Mattina, enjoy your newfound freedom from all things Mineola.  And remember:  Life is a Beach . . .