It all started two weeks ago when Medley mayor Roberto Martell called Assistant Town Clerk Mary Taylor into his office, abruptly fired her and then told her to pack her things and leave.
But things quickly got better for Taylor last week when a special meeting was called on Feb. 19 to address the issue. That’s where a cantankerous council, after an hour or so of discussion, overturned his decision and ultimately reinstated Taylor by a 4-0 vote.
This past Monday, Feb. 25, Taylor issued a statement stating she had been reinstated as assistant town clerk and will be assigned as executive assistant to the council for the Town of Medley.
“I have been placed on paid administrative leave until such time as I receive in writing from the town my job description, job duties and assigned work area,” Taylor said in the statement. “I’m looking forward to my new assignments and can’t wait to get back to work so that I may continue to serve the public as I have done for almost 17 years.”
Word of Taylor’s firing the week before spread quickly and eventually reached council members, who became embroiled that the mayor acted improperly by not including them in the process.
“She was appointed by council,” said Vice Mayor Griselia Digiacomo, who appeared agitated and spoke alternately between Spanish and English to make sure that those in attendance understood. “Only the council has the right to remove her from that position.”
Digiacomo explained that even though the mayor was the head of the town’s political “body,” the rest of the body had been left out of the decision-making process.
Tensions rose once Martell set the night’s ground rules and announced that there would be no public forum. The residents, mostly seniors, responded by standing, jeering and waving fists — until police restored order.
“This isn’t a dictatorship, this isn’t Cuba,” said Estrella Gonzalez, of Medley, who with many others complained that she didn’t understand the banter in English. So a portion of the meeting switched to Spanish and was translated on the fly into English.
More than 100 residents attended the meeting to rally for Taylor, whom they felt was treated unfairly. There was so much support that the town lifted its no-public-comments policy midstream and let a few people speak.
“A decision should be made by the mayor and the council,” said Maria Loria, who spoke for almost 10 minutes.
Jason Katz, Taylor’s attorney, told the council that she was “wrongfully terminated” by Martell and that the discipline ordinance did not apply.
“She was not disciplined at all,” said Katz, who argued that Taylor’s firing had to be affirmed by the council.
During her 17-year tenure, Taylor had chalked up a file full of awards and served faithfully through four Medley administration cycles, which was pointed out.
Martell did not explain his reasons for firing Taylor, though he said he sought advice from the town attorney before doing so.
“According to the attorney and (the town’s charter), I had the ability to do this,” said Martell, who then asked Town Attorney Michael Pizzi to explain the legal aspects of the decision.
Pizzi pointed to multiple “conflicts” in the charter as well as ordinances that have been passed that lack “clarity” before advising the town.
“At the end of the day, it is up to the mayor and the council to interpret their rules and their charter,” said Pizzi, who added that Taylor had not followed the charter’s rules since her termination.
An appeal should have been filed with the town within 10 working days by Taylor stating the reasons why she should not have been fired, according to Pizzi, who relied on the town’s “discipline” ordinance.
Katz then asked that the council reverse Taylor’s dismissal and that Martell abstain from voting pursuant to the charter unless there was a tie.
“The law has been violated,” said Digiacomo, who then advised her colleagues to follow the dictates of the ordinance and then made a motion to reinstate Taylor.
Before seconding the motion, Councilman Jack Morrow thought a reversal was in the best interest of the town.
“What do we need another lawsuit for?” said Morrow, referring to a wrongful termination lawsuit pending against the town by former Medley police lieutenant Joe Olmedo. “We are trying to prevent lawsuits.”
Cheers rang out after the 4-0 vote, with Martell abstaining from voting on the advice of Taylor’s attorney.
The council then permitted one more person to speak at open forum, and that was Taylor herself.
“The outcry of support from all of you was overwhelming,” said Taylor, who paused to make sure she made contact with the crowd. “I love all of you.”