City Police Chief John Harzinski, in court Friday seeking reinstatement to his job, will have to wait at least two more weeks to learn whether he can return to his office at City Hall.
Supreme Court Judge Richard T. Aulisi reserved decision after listening to arguments from Harzinski’s attorney, John Poklemba, and the city’s labor attorney, Bryan J. Goldberger. Final supporting legal briefs must be submitted to the judge by Jan. 25.
Harzinski was placed on paid administrative leave Dec. 6 on an allegation of insubordination, but Poklemba argued Friday that Harzinski received no explanation from Mayor Tim Hughes. City officials have declined comment on the reason for the action.
Poklemba told Aulisi that while Harzinski is receiving pay and benefits, the leave status constitutes punishment and therefore entitles Harzinski to civil service protections. If Aulisi agrees, Harzinski would be entitled to learn the allegations and receive a hearing, officials said.
But, Goldberger said, provisions of the City Charter clearly empower Hughes to run all city departments. He said civil service protections are not invoked unless or until formal charges are filed against Harzinski. Since Harzinski remains chief with full pay and benefits there is no relief available for the court to award him, Goldberger argued.
Goldberger said Hughes acted properly in placing Harzinski on leave while public integrity consultant David Grandeau investigates the police department.
Grandeau, who has been interviewing city employees in recent days, said at the outset in late December he expected to conclude his work in about 45 days. A stenographer is making a record of the interviews.
City officials said in December that Harzinski would remain on leave until then.
Attorneys for both sides asserted Friday that case law supports their positions. Aulisi gave Goldberger a week to submit his cases and provided another week so that Poklemba can respond.
Poklemba said Harzinski has been embarrassed and humiliated by the city’s action and said he has been wrongly accused in media reports of mishandling expense accounts “and other things that are totally unfounded.”
He said the administrative leave gives the city time to “somehow conjure up some type of charges.” Poklemba said Harzinski suffered the indignity of being reprimanded by Hughes on Dec. 6 in the presence of three subordinate police officers. At that time, Hughes demanded Harzinski turn over his badge and gun.
Court precedents are clear, Poklemba said, that “a forced leave of absence is a form of discipline” that would invoke Harzinski’s civil service rights.
“You can’t just force someone to take a leave of absence,” he said.
Goldberger insisted Hughes acted within his powers and that the Grandeau review could result in Harzinski’s returning to work. He said he is not at liberty to disclose personnel matters, but said Hughes believed he had cause to take the action he took.
In comments outside court, Poklemba said at least twice that Harzinski has no idea why he was accused of insubordination and placed on leave.
He said Harzinski was forced to take the matter to court to “put a stop to all the rumors and innuendoes.”
The city should explain its actions, Poklemba said.
“If you want to charge him with something, charge him with something,” he said.
Goldberger, also commenting after court, said the city is constrained by confidentiality rules regarding personnel matters. As a result, he said, “the city is at a disadvantage.”
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Categories: Schenectady County