CARS HOMES JOBS

Schoharie County harassment probe release Thursday

Monday, October 21, 2013
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— Attorneys will outline findings of a workplace harassment probe in Schoharie County government on Thursday, an unveiling one supervisor alleged is scheduled to impact the Nov. 5 election.

The investigation stemmed from allegations by employees accusing department heads and county supervisors of yelling at them and other inappropriate conduct.

The $300,000 cost of the inquiry, called a “witch hunt” by some, was the focus of a heated Board of Supervisors discussion Friday, when the panel agreed to post the report on the county website the day of this week’s meeting.

The county hired the Fitzmaurice & Walsh law firm of White Plains last September to interview employees and supervisors and elected and appointed department heads dating back to 2009.

The lawyers interviewed more than 400 people, and several supervisors said Friday that anticipation is growing among employees and the public to see what’s revealed.

Some supervisors called for more time to review the results, including Blenheim Supervisor Robert Mann Jr., who said a release date in the “waning hours of the election” is suspicious.

“It’s just obvious,” Mann said.

Board Chairman Phil Skowfoe said people he runs into are “pushing and pushing and asking for this report” and that is prompting him to get it done.

Schoharie County Attorney Mike West, who has called the probe a bad idea since its inception, said the timing may be seen by some as related to the upcoming election, but he said his motivation is to “just get it done.”

Early copies sought

Jefferson Supervisor Daniel Singletary, one of several facing a re-election challenge this year, suggested the board get an early copy of the report for sufficient preparation to ask meaningful questions of the lawyers who did the study.

Word got out a couple of weeks ago that the probe was to have been revealed Friday, further churning the ongoing talk throughout the county, which Esperance Supervisor Earl Van Wormer III said needs to end.

“It took on a life of its own. There’s a rumor mill now going on in this county … I think that’s the biggest injustice,” Van Wormer said.

Van Wormer said that somebody asks him about the probe and its results “every single day I go out there.”

Schoharie Supervisor Gene Milone, a former union representative who pressed the board to investigate employee issues, urged it not to lose focus on the goal of getting to the truth to correct issues.

Policies may change

Milone has suggested the probe could lead to policy changes that ensure the county’s employees have an adequate recourse if they believe they are being maltreated.

Penny Grimes, a former staffer at the county’s Health Department who is among three who filed unsuccessful lawsuits against the county, told supervisors Friday that the probe wasn’t a “witch hunt.”

“I was here. I lived it. You wrecked my life,” Grimes said.

Skowfoe set Thursday’s meeting for 5 p.m. in the Board Chambers in Schoharie.

He said the meeting will likely break into a closed session for discussion with the attorneys and then open up into a regular session.

The report is expected to be posted on the county’s website that day at schohariecounty-ny.gov.

 
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