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Report notes turmoil in Schoharie County workplace

Lawyers’ probe lists complaints, few conclusions

Friday, October 25, 2013
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— Lawyers brought in to investigate employee harassment allegations labeled Schoharie County’s workplace environment with the phrase “general dysfunction” in a report released to the public this week.

But Thursday’s night’s release is just a summary of allegations by county employees — the actual analysis of those complaints is still hidden from public view.

The Report

A copy of the report is available on the Capital Region Scene blog

The Schoharie County Board of Supervisors met for several hours in a closed session with representatives of the Fitzmaurice & Walsh law firm of White Plains on Thursday before releasing several hundred of pages of information that was made available to the board back in February — a laundry list of complaints and accusations.

Work on the probe continued since February, but details of recommendations the lawyers prepared in the wake of the February report are not being released to the public.

The release of the allegations without the conclusions angered some county officials.

“It’s water cooler talk, innuendo, character assassination,” said Schoharie Town Supervisor Gene Milone, the only supervisor who voted against releasing just the partial findings during a board meeting last week.

He said late Friday the released information offers little in terms of conclusions. “The second report will clarify what is true and what wasn’t,” he added.

The first report makes some strong points, however.

After interviewing about 400 employees and supervisors, the probe determined dysfunction in Schoharie County government played out with “incivility, rudeness and outright hostility between board members, department heads, employees and members of the public.”

County Board of Supervisors Chairman Philip Skowfoe could not be reached for comment Friday on the investigation, which has cost the county more than $300,000.

Documents released Thursday and published on the Schoharie County website include a 107-page report detailing the process by which hundreds of employees were asked to recount any known instances of harassment, intimidation or discrimination in the workplace.

Though the report provides numerous examples of activities alleged to have taken place, the report emphasizes it is an “evaluation,” not an investigation.

Milone said he’s requesting a special meeting of the Board of Supervisors be held next week to discuss the attorneys’ findings that suggest two former employees, Penny Grimes and Eva Gigandet, were improperly terminated from their positions in the county Health Department.

The county board cut several positions during budget development in 2011 Both Grimes and Gigandet alleged they were targeted not for budget reasons but because of turmoil in the county’s Health Department following the abrupt resignation of director Kathleen Strack.

Strack’s resignation led to the county board putting Personnel Director Cassandra Ethington in charge of the Health Department. She was out of state for a funeral Friday and not available for comment.

Putting one person in charge of two departments created a “structural conflict” that robbed Grimes and Gigandet of the chance other employees had to lobby for their jobs with an independent department head, the report released Thursday states.

“Accordingly, since we found evidence that Mss. Grimes and Gigandet’s positions were improperly targeted, we recommend Mss. Grimes and Gigandet be returned to their previous positions in the Schoharie County workplace,” the report states.

Both Grimes and Gigandet filed lawsuits against the county following their termination, but both lawsuits were ultimately dismissed.

Sean Jordan, an employee at the county Planning and Development Department, also lost his job in 2011 and also filed a lawsuit that was dismissed. The report states Jordan’s situation wasn’t akin to that of Grimes and Gigandet, and didn’t suggest he get his job back.

Several names of those making accusations in the report are redacted, but the inclusion of some names in the published document — particularly his own — drew the ire of County Treasurer William Cherry.

He is accused of being mean to an employee and using a swear word when referring to that employee.

Cherry on Friday said he did not use a swear word when referring to the employee.

He also said lawyers interviewing him said “spill everything to us. Don’t worry. It’s strictly confidential.” To see his name in the report is akin to a betrayal, he said.

“Instead of releasing the actual report that lists the true violations of the law and people that did it, the board voted to keep that secret,” Cherry said.

“What they chose to do is release the 8-month-old series of basically undocumented hearsay accusations and water cooler talk,” he said.

Cherry said he “absolutely denied” using a profanity to describe any female employee.

“I’m no saint, I’ll be the first one to say it. I swear, absolutely, but never in a thousand years would I use that word about a county employee,” Cherry said.

 
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comments

October 26, 2013
12:15 a.m.
ChuckD says...

This is an episode (or two) of "This American Life" waiting to happen.
Where are all the grown-ups?

October 26, 2013
9:09 a.m.
wmarincic says...

ChuckD a liberal who thinks life should be Utopia. Guess what, these are humans, humans have bad days, people say things that they sometimes regret, apologies get made and accepted, it's life. Go to any workplace anywhere in the world and there is sometimes conflict, there are schedules to meet and there is sometimes stress and outside factors. I guess in ChuckD's world of unicorns and pink lions none of that happens.

October 26, 2013
11:13 a.m.
ChuckD says...

yeah, you may be right 'cause I've never been in a 'workplace', and I was just born yesterday.

October 26, 2013
3:09 p.m.
hinkle says...

Chuck D...I also immediately thought of "This American Life." It is perfect for that, but I think we may need to wait for more of the conclusion. We are not at the end yet.

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