BALLSTON SPA, N.Y. — A Saratoga County Board of Supervisors committee appointed to consider penalties stemming from the county compensation debacle earlier this year finds itself between the anvil and the hammer.
The seven-member committee was formed after the completion of two investigations into an emergency pay plan that fueled anger from county employees and the public. The committee includes county supervisors from Saratoga Springs, Clifton Park, Northumberland, Milton, Halfmoon, and Mechanicville. It is chaired by Town of Ballston Supervisor Eric Connolly.
After reviewing the information contained in the investigations and hiring a labor attorney to explain the finer points of the law, the committee is now faced with a difficult decision. If the committee decides to forego termination of any individual or individuals, the entire proceedings, and any resulting actions taken will be sealed from public view because the actions will be the result of an internal investigation and therefore individual privacy must be maintained.
If the committee chooses to terminate there will be a hearing with that individual or individuals so that they have their due process. Then a hearing officer will look at the case or cases and see if the committee overstepped its bounds.
Should the committee make an error in the termination process that goes undetected during the hearing or by the hearing officer and is later found by an individual’s private attorney to have caused them harm, it could leave the county liable for a large-size lawsuit or lawsuits.
According to committee chairman Connolly, the committee has the power to reprimand employees other than by termination, but any and all reprimands would remain unseen by the public because they will be sealed with the case.
Also under seal would be any changes the committee recommends to see that such a situation like the one surrounding the time-and-a-half compensation plan never happens again.
“There could be stiff reprimands, and we could put together a robust employee improvement plan but people will never know about it,” Connolly said last week. “If it’s internal, then things cannot be revealed. That’s what our labor attorney is telling us.”
The conundrum faced by the committee is, short of termination, how best to let the public know that their concerns stemming from the compensation fiasco have been heard, taken into account, major changes made to tighten a flawed system, and though no one was terminated, very strong reprimands had been imposed.
“We really want to be as transparent as possible and let the public see the result, but we do not want to put the county at risk of a lawsuit,” Connolly said. “You terminate someone and that goes with them wherever they seek another job. If it’s not done 100 percent correctly and they get denied employment because of that, we put the county at risk of legal action.”
The work of the committee is the result of two investigations into a time-and-a-half pay plan for those county employees who had been deemed essential employees in March. The pay plan was drawn up as cases of the novel coronavirus started to be diagnosed in Saratoga County. The time-and-a-half pay plan affected union employees, department heads, and deputy department heads.
The issue of the extra pay created a furor within the County Board of Supervisors, the employees’ unions, and the public when the amount of additional funds being expended came to light and again when that extra pay suddenly ceased. An internal investigation and an external independent investigation were conducted. The reports from both investigations are available to the public through the FOIL process.