Lawyers hold county hostage over Report


By David Avitabile

"The Report," the long awaited investigation into allegations of discrimination and harassment in the county work places, should finally be released to supervisors--and possibly the public--this week.
Supervisors agreed Friday to have the attorneys who wrote the report present it to them at a special meeting Thursday at 5pm.
The explanation will be in executive session. The board would then return to open session and vote on whether to release some or all of the report to the public.
About $300,000 has been spent on the investigation and the report, but the attorneys, Fitzmaurice of White Plains, would not present their findings in person unless they were paid an additional $5,000.
Supervisors agreed Friday to pay that amount.
The county has already received an extensive "narrative" and preliminary report of the investigation, but the attorneys are still finalizing a list of findings of fact, conclusion, and recommendations, according to County Attorney Mike West.
The attorneys were supposed to be at Friday's meeting at 2pm, but he was informed Thursday evening that they were still "putting everything together," Chairman Phil Skowfoe told the board.
Supervisors Friday debated two issues on the report: whether to pay the lawyers the extra $5,000 to present and explain it, and whether to release it.
They made a decision on the payment, but not on whether to make it public.
Bob Mann of Blenheim questioned the timing of the finalization of the report, coming right before Election Day.
He wanted it released in April and called for it to be made public last month.
On Friday, he made a motion to "release what we have now." There was no second to his motion and it was not voted on.
Mr. West urged not to release the report before it is complete.
"This thing has to be released all at once. It shouldn't be released piecemeal."
Some information, such as names, may need to be deleted before the report is released, Mr. West told supervisors.
"There's all kinds of liability there. I want you to be cautious."
Supervisors agreed to have electronic copies of the initial report sent to each supervisor, as well as the follow-up report from the attorneys.
Mr. Skowfoe warned supervisors not to make the findings of the report public until it is released by the county.
Keep "what's forwarded to you to yourself."
Jim Buzon of Middleburgh argued that the report should eventually be made public.
"The taxpayers have paid for it. The voters need to see that report."
The rumors and accusations surrounding the report have been swirling all around the county, Earl VanWormer of Esperance noted, and many he has spoken to have been demanding its release.
"We've got to get it done and over."
Though the cost for the investigation has escalated, Mr. VanWormer agreed that the attorneys have to brought in to present it.
The costs started at around $50,000, Mr. VanWormer added, and then went up.
"It started out with a well intentioned idea. From that point it took on a life of its own...
"If it takes $5,000 to end this once and for all..."
One thing was for certain, unless the attorneys were paid the $5,000, they were not traveling up to Schoharie County to present the report.
"They will not come unless they're paid," Mr. West told supervisors.
The attorneys, he added, have said they will have to prepare for at least eight hours for the meeting, in addition to the time spent traveling and presenting.
The presentation of the report will not be the end, supervisors agreed.
There will be recommendations to act upon, and possibly legal action and policy changes.
In addition, some supervisors called for a new investigation, this one of the investigation itself.
Harold Vroman of Summit said the county should request that the attorney general's office "come down and investigate this investigation."
No action was taken on this request, but supervisors said it would not take board action to have the AG's office to conduct an investigation.