Employees of Schoharie County are being brought to tears during interviews taking place as part of a probe into allegations of workplace harassment, several officials said.
The county’s Board of Supervisors commissioned the White Plains-based Fitzmaurice & Walsh law firm to pursue the investigation. Since it started in October, its cost has exceeded $100,000 and officials expect another two months of work before results are complete.
The inquest followed a tumultuous 2011 that included 15 employee layoffs and the dissolution of the county’s home health agency, followed by three wrongful termination lawsuits, all of which were dismissed but are under appeal.
County Attorney Mike West said the board’s goal is to learn if there’s any pattern or ongoing practice of intimidation, discrimination or harassment that’s led employees to avoid filing complaints against superiors.
West said it’s possible the probe will reveal only that department heads and supervisors have differing leadership styles.
He expects another 30 to 45 days will pass before the county board gets a report.
The county’s personnel officer, Cassandra Ethington, said the ongoing interviews are causing further unrest among the employees. She said some, after the interviews, have “left in tears” due to a grilling that made them upset.
“I don’t see how this is going to heal this county,” she said.
But Schoharie Supervisor Gene Milone, who called for the investigation for months before the board of supervisors got it started, said tears he’s hearing of are tears of relief.
“Are people crying, yes. It’s been a very emotional interview for a lot of our people, it’s been a chance to tell all,” he said.
Ultimately, Milone said, he expects the probe will spark new policies and procedures that will lead to an established complaint process and the ability to remove department heads from their positions. Despite the money the county’s paying for the work, he said a good work atmosphere improves morale and the quality of work employees do.
“You can’t put a price tag on it, you really can’t,” he said.
The probe reached $108,000 for November and there’s no bill yet for December, board Chairman Harold Vroman said. He said up until now, there’s been around 400 interviews conducted and between 30 and 40 are yet to be completed.
He added that the probe isn’t making life easier on those being interviewed. “There’s still some tension, I think this is helping keep the tension. Once this gets done, I think things will probably get better.”