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Niskayuna continues review of controversy surrounding ex-comptroller

Niskayuna continues review of controversy surrounding ex-comptroller

Sebesta retired amid blackface allegations; state comptroller declines to give opinion on legality of vacation time payout
Niskayuna continues review of controversy surrounding ex-comptroller
Photographer: File photo

Correction 7/13 10:17 a.m.: A previously published version of this story incorrectly reported that Town Councilman John DellaRatta viewed the photo in question two years ago.

NISKAYUNA — The Town Board continued its review Wednesday of former Town Comptroller Paul Sebesta, who retired amid controversy over a photo of him in blackface makeup several years ago.

Town Supervisor Yasmine Syed said Thursday there are two lines of inquiry underway: Whether Sebesta is entitled to a payout for unused vacation time and second, what Sebesta did and when town officials became aware of it.

The first is an interpretation of town policy. Syed had requested the state Comptroller’s Office review the matter and render an opinion; it declined Wednesday on the grounds that it involves town rules, not state law.

Sebesta, a 32-year employee, accrued $47,364 worth of unused sick time and $26,313 worth of unused vacation time.

There is no debate over the sick time, Syed said — he was entitled to that and has been paid for it. However the town employee handbook indicates a vacation payout is not allowed for employees who leave town employment without two weeks’ advance notice or while disciplinary action is underway.

The town suspended Sebesta on June 16 and retired effective immediately on June 18.

The Town Board waived the two weeks’ notice requirement on June 30; still at issue now is whether the suspension constituted disciplinary action that would disqualify Sebesta from being paid the $26,313. The suspension was imposed while the investigation into the incident was underway, not as a result of the investigation

That question remains to be answered.

“I think our handbook is ambiguous,” Syed said.

The investigation into the blackface allegations is separate and being handled by an outside law firm retained by the town.

The board went into executive session at a special meeting Wednesday to discuss the situation; as a personnel matter closed to public viewing.

The supervisor said she could not provide specific details because it is a personnel matter, but broadly speaking, the goal is to determine what exactly happened, who in town government knew about it, and when they knew about it.

Sebesta in his retirement letter to the Town Board referenced a Halloween costume he purchased in 2014 and a photo that he had since deleted from a social media account.

An activist group said the deleted photo showed him in blackface — long considered demeaning to Black people — and provided screenshots of it to the Town Board.

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