Mary Hanson is no longer the Verona Senior Center director.
Hanson, 64, had been on the job five years. She is the second high-ranking city employee to be shown the door in 11 weeks and one of three whose performance has been the subject of closed-door meetings among alders this year.
Her last day was Monday, April 22, Mayor Luke Diaz confirmed to the Press two days later, though he would not confirm the nature of her exit. Hanson confirmed Thursday it was not her choice.
That was less than six months after she signed a performance improvement plan (PIP) that alleged problems with professionalism and management style, such as spreading confidential information, a perception of possible retaliation and micromanaging of staff, and one year after getting mostly positive comments in a performance review.
She denied all of those allegations and told the Press complaints were raised more than a year ago by a disgruntled senior center staff member and were a misunderstanding. Verona police Lt. Dave Dresser told the Press in an email the allegations VPD investigated, on June 20, of theft, were unfounded.
The Press obtained Hanson’s performance improvement plan in February. Her five-page reply to the Press’ open records request cites a long list of “dramatic improvements” at the senior center since she started as director in 2014, including a 40 percent increase in activity participation, and it suggests the investigation was misguided.
“I believe that if I had had an equal opportunity to discuss the situation with the Personnel Committee early on, if they had contacted any of the witnesses I provided, or if they had simply been willing to meet with me and the staff person involved, we could have resolved the situation in a more positive and pro-active manner,” she wrote.
The city’s Personnel committee met in closed session to discuss Hanson’s employment April 19, but it took no action. The firing became clear April 24, when the city published an agenda for an April 26 Personnel meeting that included discussing the position description and recruitment for that position.
Jeff Mikorski, who had signed Hanson’s PIP in November, resigned as city administrator in February with what amounted to a six-month severance after multiple closed-door meetings of the Personnel committee and the Common Council. Hanson said she was offered no severance.
In October, Mikorski delivered a PIP to fire chief Joe Giver, whose handling of personnel had been called into question by the firefighters’ union and an independent investigator.
The senior center director job was to be posted Monday, April 29, with a salary range of $58,137-$72,801 after the Personnel committee updated the job description. Among the changes since it was last updated in 2013 was additional emphasis on leadership, fostering collaboration among staff and being visible to seniors. The council is expected to discuss the recruitment process May 13.
Interim city administrator Adam Sayre and human resources coordinator Mitchell Weckerly led the evaluation of Hanson’s performance in recent weeks, and Mikorski was involved before that, Diaz told the Press.
Hanson’s most recent performance evaluation before that was for 2017-18 and was signed in April 2018. In that review, Mikorski graded Hanson as exceeding expectations in every category except planning/financial and leadership/supervision, both of which were scored “Meets Expectations,” the second-highest category.
However, the city later found enough concerns to produce a two-page performance plan.
A summary of the concerns referenced “professionalism and management style” that did not meet the city’s expectations. It listed 13 separate items for correction in an action plan.
Among them were warnings not to discuss confidential information, retaliate against employees or ask employees how other employees feel or what they say. It directed her to reduce micromanagement, provide constructive feedback throughout the year, improve teamwork through monthly meetings and training, be more visible to Senior Center patrons and watch her tone in communications with staff.
Hanson admitted Thursday to occasionally getting frustrated when communicating with staff during the past year of scrutiny but had been working to improve communications.
A separate set of directions within the document instructed Hanson to improve several systems on an ongoing basis, including handling money, staff organization, logging activity participation and disposing of unused items.
“Managing rapid growth is a challenge. I have taken many classes to further my knowledge and management skills,” Hanson’s Feb. 7 reply to the open records request states. “I have already completed every step of the Action Plan outlined in the Performance Improvement Plan.”
Diaz told the Press he was unaware of any other issues that had arisen in recent weeks beyond what was in the PIP.
“There was no scandalous misconduct,” he said.
Hanson told the Press while this situation is challenging, she believes she has a good reputation and references and hopes to continue working in the field.
She said her best achievements were hiring good people, and she noted she had been asked to serve as a peer reviewer for the Wisconsin Association of Senior Centers to review accreditation of other senior centers.
“They don’t ask that of just anybody,” she said.