The Report: Curses, harassment, intimidation tell the tale


By David Avitabile

The expensive and long-awaited report on discrimination and harassment in the Schoharie County workforce has finally been released and its findings did not disappoint those looking for dirt on county officials and department heads.
The 104-page document released to the public Thursday night detailed a series of incidents in which county supervisors, department heads, and other elected officials allegedly cursed, made fun of and/or berated county employees.
Among those targeted as offenders were Personnel Director Cassandra Ethington, Treasurer Bill Cherry, Board of Elections Commissioner Lewis Wilson, Cobleskill Supervisor Tom Murray, and planning director Alicia Terry.
While the names of Mr. Cherry, Mr. Wilson, and the rest were mentioned in just one or two incidents, Ms. Ethington was implicated in many occurrences, according to the report that was written by the Fitzmaurice law firm of White Plains.
(The report released Thursday blacks out the names of most employees; the Times-Journal has a copy with the names.)
The report also found some potential legal issues in the creation of the layoff list in the fall of 2011 and the naming of the personnel director as the interim head of the health department. Both issues involve Ms. Ethington.
Several of those alleged incident occurred during the fall of 2011 as numerous layoffs were discussed by county officials.
Pat Shiland, the county's former safety officer was laid off in 2011 and detailed an encounter he had with Ms. Ethington after the 2011 flood.
About a month after the flood, Mr. Shiland said the county board put him in charge of cleaning up the flood damage at the county office building.
Ms. Ethington began to give him directions. He called then-Chairman Harold Vroman to ask him who was in charge and was told he was. Ms. Ethington never appeared on the job site again though that was not the end of incident.
At a subsequent recovery committee meeting, he encountered Ms. Ethington in the hallway, and she allegedly told him, "You son of a b****, you want to run to the f***** board and rat on me. I can't wait until you are out of here."
Ms. Ethington countered that she believed she was a victim of sexual harassment, intimidation, and harassment.
She claimed there was a "culture of intimidation" in the Schoharie County government.
She recalled that at a public meeting, Schoharie Supervisor Gene Milone, who began the call for the investigation, told her, "Your reign of terror over."
She told lawyers that Chairman Phil Skowfoe of Fulton did not like her and that certain members of the board "were out to get her" though "she had difficulty providing direct evidence of particular incidents."
At another time, three supervisors told her that during a Republican caucus, Mr. Cherry and Mr. Wilson made comments about her.
When speaking to attorneys, she paraphrased their remarks as, "she floats into a room, flaunts her boobs and blue eyes and gets the guys to give her whatever she wants."
The comment was confirmed by two supervisors, according to the report.
The report criticized the creation of a layoff list she created in 2011.
Social Services Commissioner Paul Brady and Ms. Terry were the co-budget officers and were given the task of creating the 2012 budget.
In the report, Ms. Ethington said she was instructed by Blenheim Supervisor Bob Mann to create a list of layoffs in addition to that proposed by the budget officers.
That list later became known in county circles as the "hit list."
The attorneys asked her for a copy of Mr. Mann's e-mail about the layoffs. She said she did not know if she had the e-mail but would look for it.
"When asked to recall the content of the e-mail," the report states, "the personnel officer told us she would rather not recall and did not feel comfortable answering the question. A 10-minute recess was then taken from the interview."
A deputy board clerk said Mr. Mann said he would not be interviewed by the attorneys.
"The creation of the personnel officer's layoff list at the request of Supervisor Mann, however well intentioned, may have violated procedures contained in the County Law," the report stated.
The attorneys who authored the report also questioned naming Ms. Ethington "to manage the health department."
State public health law and the state Department of Health state that the requirements for a director of public health must have a master's degree in public health or a related field.
Ms. Ethington, according to the report, has a two-year degree in business administration.
"These findings raise a larger issue," the attorneys stated. "Why did the Board of Supervisors, the county board of health, and the public health oversight committee allow Ms. Ethington to act as the interim director of public health for such an extended period of time?"
A director of health was not named until January 2012, a year after Ms. Ethington was named interim director.
Ms. Ethington was not the only county official to come under fire in the report.
Shortly after being named head of flood recovery for the county, Treasurer Cherry and Colleen Fullford of the emergency management office debated points at a meeting with FEMA and state officials.
Ms. Fullford left the meeting, but in the hallway after the meeting, it was reported to her that Mr. Cherry allegedly said, "That smart mouth b**** has got to be put in her place."
Supervisor Vroman told lawyers that he overheard the statement in the hallway.
Mr. Cherry denied Ms. Fullford's version of the events and denied referring to her as a b****.
Mr. Murray told attorneys he used "foul language" towards two central data processing employees, when he intervened during an argument between members of the central data processing office and the DPW.
Mr. Murray described his actions as inappropriate. He said he apologized to the employees involved the day after the incident.
The report noted that Sean Jordan, who was laid off from the planning office, was called, in his absence, "Skippy the wonder pup," by the planning director, Ms. Terry, according to Veronica Diamond, the office manager for the planning department.
Mr. Jordan told attorneys Ms. Terry intimidated him when he was a passenger in her car.
"He told us her driving skills and offensive language caused him to be intimidated," according to the report.