South Hadley Electric Light Department employee alleges he was assaulted by fellow worker

By Jim Russell | Original Article

SOUTH HADLEY — An employee at the municipally owned South Hadley Electric Light Department, who says there has been an ongoing hostile environment at the agency for years, filed a police report in December alleging he was the victim of an assault perpetrated by a fellow worker.

However, the employee did not file an action in court on the alleged assault.

The alleged victim is Robert Blasko, 50, an electrician at the SHELD since 2000. He has been on approved sick-leave under his doctor’s care since January that he said is related to the alleged incident. Blasko declined to discuss matters directly involving the alleged assault or to elaborate on his contention about a a hostile workplace or previous problems at the SHELD for the record. He referred questions to his attorney, Andrew J. Gambaccini, a lawyer with the Worcester firm Reardon, Joyce & Akerson, PC.

Following public records and Freedom of Information requests, the South Hadley Police Department on Friday provided a redacted police narrative and the incident report.

The documents are dated Dec. 13, 2013.

The documents show a misdemeanor assault and battery was reported on that date, taking place at “Government/Public Building – South Hadley Electric Light Company” located at 85 Main St.

They show that the alleged perpetrator, whose name is also redacted, reportedly swore at the alleged victim, placed his hands on him and challenged the alleged victim to “hit him,” the report states.

Although Blasko didn’t pursue court action on the alleged assault, his lawyer said the matter remains unresolved.

“I expect further developments to be happening in fairly short order,” Gambaccini said in a telephone message on Tuesday. In a later email, the attorney wrote: “Town officials have been petitioned regarding this matter and we are awaiting some kind of substantive response designed to address this situation. Distressingly, to date the only response of note has been the retaliatory misconduct of an appointed official. It is our hope and expectation that those elected officials who bear the responsibility for the oversight of SHELD swiftly will bring about an appropriate resolution to all of these matters.”

Meanwhile, South Hadley District 1 Fire Chief Robert Authier confirmed on Tuesday that he had written the SHELD manager, Wayne Doerpholz, about an incident involving the same SHELD employee who allegedly assaulted Blasco. According to the fire chief, the incident involving him and the SHELD employee took place in 2011, in the weeks following the October snowstorm, when the worker allegedly threatened the fire chief.

Authier provided email correspondence he exchanged with Doerpholz concerning the matter, following public records and Freedom of Information requests.

The SHELD employee “verbally threatened that ‘if I wasn’t wearing my badge’ … I stopped him and asked him if he was threatening me. He did not answer me, but at that point I took it as such and warned him about making threatening statements to the Fire Chief,” Authier wrote via email to Doerpholz on Nov. 22, 2011.

“I will get back to you shortly,” Doerpholz wrote the next day.

On Dec. 14, 2011 the chief again wrote Doerpholz, inquiring whether “you completed your investigation into this issue …”

Doerpholz responded on Dec. 20, 2011, writing: “I think that we should put this matter behind us.”

In the email, the SHELD manager also wrote: “As you can imagine, I’ve been told conflicting accounts. Without judging anyone’s actions, I know that the day in question was extremely stressful for SHELD personnel. …I sincerely believe that the incident in question (no matter which account one believes) was an unfortunate exchange due to an historically stressful time,” Doerpholz wrote, likely in reference to the task of restoring electricity to the town following the massive Oct. 29-30 snowstorm.

Contacted on Tuesday, the SHELD board chair, Cheryl Nickle, said she is aware of the matter involving the fire chief. She was also asked about the incident involving Blasko.
Nickle said it is her understanding there may be litigation: “I can’t comment on any of it.”

Asked about the police report involving Blasko, SHELD Vice Chairman Jeff Lebrecque said: “As long as matters such as this are in arbitration, we shouldn’t be commenting. I can’t comment. It is a matter that is not resolved.”

Board member Christine Archambault said: “Since my election to the SHELD board in April, the manager has not given us any update on any personnel matters including the status of Robert Blasko.”

At the SHELD board’s most recent meeting, questions were raised about more than one set of minutes being kept.

The issue prompted an attorney, John Welch, who was present – at the request of Doerpholz – to state during the meeting: “There is a lot of confusion because you have two sets of minutes.”

The board also met in executive session during the June 25 meeting “to discuss personnel issues.” A resident has filed an Open Meeting Law complaint against SHELD, alleging that the reason given was vague and does not comport with the state’s Open Meeting Law.

Prior to meeting behind closed doors, Welch also told Doerpholz that he had no legal basis to bar a board member from tape recording the meetings. At previous meetings, Doerpholz had Archambault to put away or turn off her tape recorder. According to Archambault, Doerpholz said he had a letter to vouch for the propriety of his actions, but no letter to substantiate his position was produced.

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