EDITORIAL: Independent investigation needed in Clifton Park


When two parties don’t trust each other, sometimes the only way to settle a dispute is to bring in someone from the outside to help resolve it.

That’s why all public officials in Clifton Park should embrace an independent investigation into the alleged “toxic atmosphere” inside town hall.

Floating around in that atmosphere are allegations that one town official has been abusive toward employees and that the town supervisor, Phil Barrett, engaged in a physical altercation with an employee.

Some say the allegations of a toxic work atmosphere are true, while others say the situation is being overblown for political reasons to discredit Barrett.

Unfortunately, the only thing that’s clear in this mess is that it’s boiled over to the point where the allegations can’t be ignored.

An independent investigation is the only way to determine who’s right, who’s wrong, how serious it is and what should be done about it. All parties, including Supervisor Barrett, should welcome the probe — if they have nothing to fear from the outcome.

That’s why the board’s split decision to hire an outside law firm to look into the allegations was the right one.

The attorney — Hilary Moreira, of Bond, Schoeneck & King Attorneys — will be tasked with investigating “alleged violations of Town policies and other labor and employment matters in the Town,” the resolution states. The investigator then will make a report of findings and recommendations to the town board at some undisclosed date.

The investigation will be expensive.

The firm charges between $185 and $495 per hour, based on the time the firm’s attorneys, paralegals and other service professionals devote to it, according to a letter from the law firm to the town.

Town officials oddly didn’t set a timetable for the investigation or a cap on legal fees.

We understand the need to allow the investigation to go where it goes and to allow the law firm adequate leeway to do its work.

And hiring a reputable law firm like Bond, Schoeneck & King helps lessen the possibility that the firm will pad the town’s bill.

Still, board members would be irresponsible if they didn’t monitor the progress of the investigation and provide citizens with regular updates. They would also be irresponsible if they allowed the investigation — and the bill — to escalate beyond reason.

Town workers have every right to expect a non-toxic work environment and not to be subject to harassment or physical confrontations. Taxpayers also benefit from a workforce that feels supported and valued.

Everyone involved — the town supervisor, the town board, town managers and staff, and the public — will benefit from an accurate accounting of the situation and a resolution to the conflicts.

Sometimes, you have to invest good money to get good government.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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