SARATOGA COUNTY – Saratoga County’s director of human resources was replaced last week in a vote that deeply divided members of the Board of Supervisors between supporters of now-former county human resources director Margaret “Marcy” McNamara and her pending replacement, Scot Chamberlain of Halfmoon.
The change, legal since McNamara’s six-year fixed term in the job expired in May, split the supervisors along what are now-familiar lines. Those representing the largest-population communities, a bipartisan group formed last year calling itself the Saratoga County Public Health Northway Corridor Task Force, supported Chamberlain.
The larger communities are, in general, pitted against those from smaller towns outside the Northway corridor. Many of those supervisors supported re-appointing McNamara.
Chamberlain is currently manager of human resources for the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System, and previously was director of the bureau of employee relations at the state Office of Mental Health. He has also taught college-level public administration of criminal justice courses in the Capital Region for 20 years. He will start the new job on Aug. 2, according to the board’s hiring resolution.
McNamara has worked for the county since 2009, initially as deputy director of personnel. She became human resources director — the primary point of contact for union contract negotiations and other matters involving more than 1,200 county employees, plus retirees — in 2015, with her term expiring in May. He will be earning more than $120,000 annually.
At the June 15 Board of Supervisors meeting in Ballston Spa, a resolution to name Chamberlain was unexpectedly introduced at the end of the meeting. Two motions to amend the resolution to substitute McNamara’s name failed. The final vote to appoint Chamberlain was approved, even though nine supervisors voted for the appointment, and 12 voted against it because those who supported it came from larger towns, and the county has a population-weighted voting system.
Debate on the resolution included Stillwater Supervisor Ed Kinowski reading a prepared statement from Northumberland Supervisor Bill Peck, saying that the controlling majority has created “a serious employee morale problem.” Peck was at a son’s athletic competition, though he later participated in the meeting by telephone.
Kinowski said Tuesday he agreed with Peck’s sentiments. “The magnificent Northway Corridor group is in charge of everything now,” he said. “We just don’t work as a united board anymore, we just don’t.”
Kinowski’s son, Adam, is the county’s deputy human resource director, a job he was appointed to in 2019 that Kinowski insists he won on his own, without political interference.
McNamara played a central role in the county’s COVID-pay controversy last year.
She, along with former county administrator Spencer Hellwig, was held responsible by the controlling majority of supervisors for the March 2020 “fiasco” in which the county offered time-and-a-half pay to employees who physically reported to work because of the then-new pandemic. At the time, many employees were ordered to stay home. Others, however, had to physically report to work because of their critical public safety roles or other responsibilities. They were the ones to receive the extra money.
The arrangement quickly became a point of public criticism — it was estimated to cost the county $325,000 in additional compensation per week. The policy was quickly amended and then withdrawn. The process created uncertainty, confusion, and bad feelings with county labor unions. An outside law firm hired by the county investigated last summer, and criticized the process for poor internal communication, but found that neither Hellwig nor McNamara had done anything wrong.
Hellwig was nevertheless replaced as county administrator when his appointment came up for renewal in January. Hellwig has since sued the county for wrongful termination.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Todd Kusnierz, R-Moreau, a member of the Northway Corridor group, said that county department heads with fixed six-year terms should have no expectation of automatic reappointment.
“Anybody who applies will be considered on the basis of their application,” he said. “There should never be a presumption that if you’re there now and your term has expired, you will be reappointed. There should be no expectation of reappointment.”
Kusnierz said established county policy requires a search when an appointment with a fixed term expires, even though the supervisors haven’t followed that policy when there was an incumbent department head seeking to stay.
The search committee that recommended Chamberlain included Clifton Park Supervisor Phil Barrett, Clifton Park Supervisor Jonathan Schopf, Charlton Supervisor Joe Grasso, County Administrator Steven Bulger, and Social Services Commissioner Tina Potter. Kusnierz said it received 30 applications. McNamara had applied.
The purpose of appointing county department heads to fixed terms is to prevent their being put under political pressure or to fear for their jobs. In addition to personnel director, positions covered by fixed-term appointments include commissioners of social services and public works and director of real property tax services.
In a letter sent to all supervisors on June 11, four days before the vote, McNamara said she was aware she was likely to be replaced, and she believes she is a victim of harassment and hostility from county board Chairman Todd Kusnierz, who votes with the Northway Corridor communities. She implied she might file a federal complaint against the county or take other action.
McNamara did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. Kusnierz offered only a brief comment on her letter: “I won’t even dignify that with a response, other than say there appears to be a continued pattern of incorrect information being providing to the Board of Supervisors.”
Kinowski said he has no issues with Chamberlain or his qualifications, but he nevertheless thinks McNamara wasn’t given a fair opportunity to keep the job.
“I have no concerns with [Chamberlain],” Kinowski said. “My concern is the process. The process was potentially flawed. We had a highly qualified and dedicated employee, and now she’s thrown aside.”