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Personnel Director Seeks Injunctive Relief to Protect her Job

The city's personnel director, Susan Bello, was back in court on Monday, asking a judge to issue an injunction that would restore her salary and departmental budget.

Susan Bello, the city's personnel director, was back in court on Monday in her ongoing battle to protect her job from possible elimination.

their budget process earlier this year in what was described as an effort to consolidate services with the school department — a plan that was estimated to save $100,000 as her duties would be shifted to Ray Votto, the school district's chief operating officer.

and Bello never stopped receiving paychecks and performing her duties as the city's personnel director thanks to a temporary restraining order issued by a Superior Court judge earlier this year.

But her salary continues to be listed as $0 in the current operating budget and the City Council has not passed a resolution reinstating her salary or returning her department's budget to the original line item, leaving Bello in a state of limbo.

On Monday, Bello and her lawyer, Jeffrey Pine, told Superior Court Judge William E. Carnes that they want him to issue injunctive relief, reinstating her position and restoring her salary and department's line items in the budget. 

Bello and Pine noted that Bello's position is mandated by the City Charter, a mayoral appointment, and her position is classified, which means she could be terminated only after a disciplinary hearing or an official layoff notice that came through the mayor's office.

Instead, Bello argued, she was told by the city's Director of Administration Gerald Cordy and City Solicitor Christopher Rawson at the end of April that she and her department "would cease to exist" once the new budget went into effect on July 1. That would constitute a violation of the City Charter and would violate her rights as a civil service employee, she said.

Three lawyers were on hand to represent the city and city officials on Monday in Superior Court. They contended that Bello was never formally terminated, nor did she receive written notice that her job would be gone. The lawyers pushed that point, forcing Bello to acknowledge that she did not receive written notice that she was being terminated or losing her job. The suggestion was that the city was not in a position to reinstate her, since she was never officially terminated.

But Bello said if the court doesn't grant injuctive relief, "I would recieve no salary, no health coverage, no dental, life insurance, no retirement contributions and I will not be performing the charter mandated duties I'm required to perform."

The city's lawyers didn't press much further, and after a conference with Carnes and all lawyers in the courtroom, it appears the matter could be coming to a close in a few days. Carnes scheduled another hearing for Sept. 24 "with a goal towards resolution."

It was revealed during Monday's hearing over the objections of city lawyers that another employee of the department went through a similar fate — and was ultimately reinstated after she took the city to court.

Gale Topakian, a part-time employee of the department who has worked for the city for about 35 years, saw her job zero-funded in 2007. She responded by filing a civil complaint against the city and was reinstated after the city signed an Oct. 2007 agreement in which they agreed that her position was classified and could not be eliminated without a proper hearing.

Bello made it clear that she is looking for job security and despite receiving her paychecks while the temporary restraining order remains in effect, her salary is still officially listed as $0 and her department has no budget. 

She also said in court that her job description and Votto's job descriptions are vastly different and Votto would likely have to hire an extra employee to handle the duties she performs on a daily basis.

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