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July 23, 2013

In VSEA Counter-Coup, Mitchell's Back and His Opponents Are Out

When you stage a coup, you better be sure to off the king.

That's the lesson two top lawyers at the Vermont State Employees Association learned Monday when their boss, Mark Mitchell, was reinstated as executive director of the state's second largest union.

Nearly six weeks before, the lawyers — VSEA general counsel Michael Casey and associate general counsel Abigail Winters — led a seemingly perfectly orchestrated effort to oust Mitchell. At the time, they told the union's board of trustees that Mitchell had "knowingly allowed the organization to violate numerous laws, exposing VSEA to liability," as Casey later put it in an email.

Their accusations led to Mitchell's swift dismissal. But just days later, the worm began to turn. A week after voting 10-6 to fire Mitchell, the board reversed course and voted 10-7 to reinstate him, put him on leave and commission an independent investigation into his actions.

On Monday, the union announced in a statement that the investigation had "determined that the charges against Mitchell do not warrant dismissal by this body." Mitchell, according to the statement, had been "invited to return immediately to his role as VSEA executive director." (The story was first reported by VTDigger's Alicia Freese.)

And what of those two lawyers?

Casey and Winters, the statement said, "have voluntarily resigned from their positions. They will leave VSEA on August 2, 2013 in good standing. VSEA thanks them for their years of dedication and good service to the union."

Voluntarily resigned? Kicked out to the curb? Not a single person associated with the union would return our calls Monday, so it's impossible to say which it was. But it doesn't really matter. The fact is, there's simply no way Mitchell and his accusers could work side-by-side after last month's putsch.

One party or the other had to go. 

As for not returning our calls, who can blame 'em? Just last month, we took the union to task for airing its dirty laundry in pretty much the sloppiest manner possible. That its leaders are clamming up and refusing to diverge from a single message — that the union's "committed to moving forward and making VSEA even stronger" — is perhaps a sign that they're serious about doing just that.

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