NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk union members say the behavior of Norwalk personnel director James Haselkamp at a Wednesday meeting was outrageous enough to merit filing a criminal complaint with the Norwalk Police Department.
Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik confirmed a complaint had been filed, but said Friday the case had been closed as there was no probable cause for a criminal charge.
What Kulhawik described as a “heated exchange” started with a comment that Haselkamp had lied, Department of Public Works employees say. They say Haselkamp shoved a table at the DPW employee who said it, leaned over the table and put his finger close to the employee’s face and screamed at the group as they left a room on the first floor of City Hall.
Haselkamp denies it.
The incident came the same afternoon the members of the Norwalk Police union met to endorse former Norwalk Police Chief Harry Rilling for mayor, saying they have been treated unfairly by the city, that they deserve respect. Norwalk firefighters said the same things Monday as they endorsed Rilling over incumbent Republican Mayor Richard Moccia. A Norwalk councilman said Haselkamp is the root of their complaints, that Haselkamp is costing Moccia votes.
“I think a lot of the mayor’s problems are a direct result of the personnel director,” Council Minority Leader David Watts (D-District A) said.
“There was an incident,” Haselkamp said in an email. “The union instigated the incident by verbally abusing me and in response there was an exchange where voices were raised.”
Members of the American Federation of State and Municipal Employees Local 2405 say they met with Haselkamp and representatives of CIGNA insurance Wednesday to go over the cost of their insurance package, negotiated last spring as part of their new contract. Terrance Fuller, a Local 2405 executive board member, said that he called Haselkamp a liar and turned to walk away.
Haselkamp had also been walking away but came back and shoved the table into him, Fuller said. “I’m no one’s liar,” Fuller quoted Haselkamp as saying. “Who are you to be calling me a liar?” He told the DPW workers to “Get your stuff and get out,” Fuller said.
There were about 40 people at the meeting, the union members say. DPW Acting Superintendent of Operations Chris Torre, who is not in the union, said he was one of them. He corroborated the union members’ side of the story.
Torre said he was next to Haselkamp, Fuller and the others, but had his back to them. He was leaning against a 6-foot-long table. The table suddenly moved a foot to the left, he said, forcing his to regain his balance. Haselkamp used a profanity as he yelled at the exiting DPW workers, telling them to leave the room, he said. “Get the —- out of here,” Haselkamp said according to Torre. Haselkamp’s finger was five inches from Fuller’s face, Torre said.
Local 2405 Treasurer/Secretary Eric Montgomery was also there, as was President Milt Giddeons. Both said Fuller did not get aggressive in return.
“He did the right thing by not saying anything or not doing anything to retaliate against him because the city of Norwalk has a no-tolerance policy,” Montgomery said. “But obviously they tolerate this stuff. It all depends where it’s coming from.”
Montgomery said if a union member had behaved as Haselkamp did, he would be suspended.
Giddeons said he was “very, very saddened” and “upset” that this happened in front of so many people.
“It was uncalled for, unprofessional behavior,” he said. “It was disturbing to see that type of behavior.”
Haselkamp’s email tells a different story.
“I was nowhere near the member’s face as we were never closer than three or four feet apart,” he wrote late Thursday. “My version of the events can be corroborated by many witnesses. In fact, many of their members came to me and apologized for their conduct.”
NancyOnNorwalk promptly wrote back to ask for contact information for those witnesses. Haselkamp did not reply.
Moccia was copied on all the inquiries to Haselkamp. He has had no comment.
Montgomery and Fuller went to police headquarters Friday evening to check on the status of the investigation. The desk sergeant could not tell them anything. The file was locked, according to Sgt. Bruce Hume, meaning that it was only accessible to those officers directly involved in the case.
A short while later, Kulhawik answered a NancyOnNorwalk inquiry.
“After reviewing the investigation the officer’s supervisor determined that the case would be closed with no further action and I reviewed and concurred,” Kulhawik wrote. “There is no probable cause to support any criminal charges. It appears to be simply a very brief heated exchange of words.”
Union members said that was odd.
“They haven’t questioned us, so as far as I am concerned, it’s a little crazy,” Montomery said. “It’s a little weird that we haven’t been questioned. I don’t know why they’re waiting to investigate it.”
Fuller said the tension stemmed from the cost of insurance under the new contract. The numbers presented at Wednesday’s meeting were much higher than they had been led to expect, he said.
“He didn’t have actual numbers during the negotiation,” Fuller said. “He said, ‘Well, I can’t give you actual numbers of what the high deductible plan is going to be at this time.’ So we’re like, ‘How are we going to negotiate without actual numbers? It doesn’t make sense.’”
Haselkamp provided predictions from an actuary during the negotiations, Fuller and Montgomery said. Haselkamp denied that he had provided the numbers, which led to the liar comment, they said.
Montgomery said the comment was justified.
“We knew he was lying to us,” he said. “We knew about the paperwork.”
Fuller had a copy of the prediction they had been given, they said. He produced that paperwork before calling Haselkamp a liar, they said.
Why go to the cops?
“I felt threatened,” Fuller said. “I mean, he runs the city. He’s my boss’s boss’s boss’s boss. Yes, I felt it was definitely needed for me to come over here and give a statement and make a complaint.”
Montgomery said union members will check back on Monday to see what they can do about getting the complaint investigated further.
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