By: Kaitlin Junod
Statehouse Correspondant / NH Gazette
BOSTON — Two cousins will lose their state jobs after the fiancee of a state Senate candidate from Southampton complained that she was the victim of political bullying.
Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration is moving to fire Jared Valanzola, a personnel officer at the Department of Conservation and Recreation, part of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. Michael Valanzola, the chief operating officer for Energy and Environmental Affairs, has resigned. The men are cousins.
The administration launched the investigation after Cynthia Lewis claimed she was transferred to the agency’s Fall River office after her fiance, Democrat J.D. Parker-O’Grady, of Southampton, launched a campaign to unseat incumbent Republican state Sen. Donald F. Humason Jr. of Westfield, who represents the 2nd Hampden and Hampshire District that includes Easthampton and Southampton.
Investigators said Wednesday they found no conclusive evidence that the transfer was politically motivated, but discovered other evidence of inappropriate and unprofessional conduct.
While investigators said they found no conclusive evidence that Michael Valanzola sought retaliation against Lewis, the administration believed it was not possible for him to continue in his position, which includes direct oversight of the agency’s human resources.
Calls to Jared Valanzola and Michael Valanzola were not immediately returned Wednesday.
A third person, program manager Tim Sullivan, has been issued a warning after investigators concluded he had invaded Lewis’ personal space while speaking with her about the transfer.
Baker told reporters that he supports the findings, but said the investigation took too long. He said Lewis first raised the issue in June. He said she still has her job and he hopes she continues to serve.
Baker emphasized that Humason “had absolutely no involvement in this at all.”
The governor said Humason was surprised when he learned of the allegations. Baker said he received a call from Humason who told him, “I want you to do the investigation.”
The resignation and firing are the latest in a series of scandals involving the agency. Late last month Matthew Sisk, a deputy commissioner at the DCR, resigned after he was accused of using the lights and sirens on his state vehicle to get through traffic. Sisk and DCR Commissioner Leo Roy were both suspended for a week earlier in September for using state employees to plan and host a private Fourth of July party.
Baker also said he still has confidence in Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton.
“Secretary Beaton was toe-to-toe with us all the way through this investigation,” Baker said. “Anybody who engaged with any of the kinds of activity associated with either this investigation or some of the other stuff reported on … We will deal with that, and we will deal with that aggressively.”
Baker said announcements about changes in administration and management of the Department of Conservation and Recreation will be made in the next few days.
Parker-O’Grady and Humason on Wednesday both praised the investigation and its outcome.
“I’m glad some action has been taken against some of the people who were involved,” Parker- O’Grady said.
Humason issued a statement praising the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs for conducting a thorough investigation of the incident.
“Under no circumstances should any state employee ever be subjected to harassment or improper conduct in the workplace,” he said.
Baker noted that people who work in state government “do have the right to engage in civic affairs.”
“The unifying message is that no one in our administration, ever, should think it is appropriate not to run for something because of political purposes,” Baker said.
Parker-O’Grady said Lewis is reviewing the outcome of the investigation with her attorneys.
“She is a strong person. She is helping me to stay focused,” he said.
Parker-O’Grady said the incident would not affect his challenge to Humason.
“As far as my campaign goes, we are still charging forward and trying to focus on the issues in the district,” Parker-O’Grady said.