CLIFTON PARK–Less than a month after the Clifton Park Town Board hired outside counsel to investigate what some board members described as “a toxic atmosphere” and alleged employee mistreatment inside Town Hall, those same board members rejected a resolution on Monday that would have appointed a different hearing officer to look into disciplinary action taken against a town employee.
The same three board members–Amy Standaert, Lynda Walowit and Amy Flood–who voted against Monday’s resolution to appoint the hearing officer voted on May 16 to hire the outside counsel to investigate Town Hall’s allegedly hostile workplace.
Monday’s resolution said the hearing officer–pursuant to Civil Service Section 75–would have looked into a notice of discipline that Town of Clifton Park Supervisor Phil Barrett served to a town employee on April 27. That discipline was a result of alleged incompetence arising from a neglect of job duties.
The resolution also said the employee, through an attorney, notified the town on May 5 that he demanded a hearing on the disciplinary action.
Barrett and Councilman Anthony Morelli voted in favor of appointing the hearing officer after voting against the May 16 resolution to hire outside counsel to look into the town’s allegedly troubling workplace environment.
Prior to the board hiring outside counsel last month, a town employee filed a complaint with the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office alleging that Supervisor Phil Barrett put his hands on an employee.
No town officials would confirm Monday if the April 27 discipline action mentioned in the hearing officer resolution involved the same employee who filed the complaint with the sheriff’s office.
But after the May 16 meeting, Barrett said: “A report was filed referencing some sort of physical altercation. This was following a very serious adverse personnel action that occurred. I had taken a very serious adverse personnel action against an employee, and apparently that’s what followed.”
A separate disciplinary notice was allegedly administered on May 3, Standaert said during Monday’s meeting. But the notice of that action was not mentioned in Monday’s hearing officer resolution, which was part of the reason Standaert said she didn’t support the measure.
“That omission causes me a lot of concern,” Standaert said. “My concern is that we need more information moving forward–hence the need for an independent investigation.”
Town Attorney Thomas McCarthy said the board could deal with the April 27 disciplinary action and determine how to go forward with addressing the May complaint at a later time.
“After the resolution of this matter, the board will be better positioned to know how to proceed on the second one,” McCarthy said.
Monday’s resolution would have hired Carolyn B. George of Cooper Erving to conduct a full hearing on the April 27 disciplinary charges, to make a record, and to make recommendations to the board for how to proceed.
The hourly fee would have been $250, according to McCarthy.
The May 16 resolution hired Hilary Moreira, of Bond, Schoeneck & King Attorneys, based in Garden City, New York. Moreira’s current hourly rate is $335, according to a letter Moreira wrote to the Town Board that was included as part of the May resolution. The firm’s hourly rate can range from $185 to $495, according to the letter.
The board met virtually with Bond, Schoeneck & King during an executive session Monday, prompting Morelli to leave the executive session early, alleging the virtual meeting had been improperly set up by the three board members who voted to hire the firm.
“Do they work for three people on this board, or do they work with the entire Town Board?” Morelli said once public session resumed.
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.