By Jordan Cohen
Vienna Township trustees voted to dismiss a longtime superintendent Monday night, only to change their minds within the hour after angry protests from residents.
More than 60 people braved the subzero temperatures to crowd the township hall and protest the action to terminate Mike Penrose, 47, highway superintendent and cemetery sexton. Penrose has been superintendent for nine years and an employee for more than 18.
“You are public servants, and you owe us an explanation,” said township resident Ron Bagaglia.
“You are leaving our township in a bad way,” said another resident, Tom Powell.
Several of the spectators accused one of the trustees, Heidi Brown, of having “a vendetta” against Penrose because of a 2010 incident at the cemetery in which a vandalism charge was filed against Brown after a complaint from Penrose. The charge was later dismissed.
“I think it is a vendetta because I’ve never been given an explanation,” Penrose told The Vindicator. “I’ve already contacted legal counsel.”
In the first vote Monday, Brown and Trustee Phil Pegg voted to fire Penrose effective in April “to give us time to find a replacement,” Brown said. Richard Dascenzo, the newly elected trustee chairman, voted against the dismissal.
“I’m happy with [Penrose’s] work,” said Dascenzo who was applauded by the spectators.
Despite the residents’ demand for an explanation, Brown declined to give a reason for the dismissal.
“We will not discuss personnel issues in public,” said Brown, who appeared angry at the opposition and many of the comments. “You are a mob at this point,” she told the residents.
The situation changed, however, after Penrose asked for an immediate executive session to discuss his situation, and the trustees agreed. When they emerged 20 minutes later, Brown walked out of the township hall.
Pegg, who initially had voted to dismiss Penrose, moved to continue his employment and place the superintendent in a probationary period until June when his work will be evaluated. Dascenzo agreed.
The audience applauded the vote, and several walked over to congratulate Penrose. Pegg declined to say why he changed his mind.
Penrose confirmed that he was told by Brown last week he would be dismissed in April even though the trustees had not officially voted.
Dascenzo revealed that the other trustees had discussed Penrose’s employment in an executive session that occurred after he had left their meeting.