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The Report: 20 Months of Mismangement by County Board

Written By Editor on 10/24/13 | 10/24/13

The Fitzmaurice Report, which was sanctioned by a 14-1 vote on February 17, 2012 following widespread allegations of harassment and a culture of intimidation within county government, has taken a series of disturbing turns from what the Schoharie News can gather by reading almost two years worth of County Board minutes concerning "the Report."

Note: This information is based solely on board minutes posted on the county website. After various off the record conversations, an extensive review of what we know publicly concerning "the Report" was conducted, which has led to more questions than answers.

After seven months of diligently advertising for a law firm to conduct the investigation, Supervisor Phil Skowfoe of Fulton motioned the following: "to amend to hire Fitzmaurice & Walsh Law Firm and to fund up to $50,000.  Chair and Vice-Chair will review findings and come back to Board of Supervisors to approve additional funding." It was seconded by Supervisor Milone of Schoharie.

It was approved by a split 10-6 vote with several supervisors concerned the cost would balloon beyond the initial $50,000 but with strong confidence that Fitzmaurice would conduct the investigation with focus on the county employees.

This was followed by a motion on January 7, 2013 by Supervisor Bob Mann of Blenheim to halt interviews until Fitzmaurice explained their billing practices after costs topped $100,000 and with an additional estimated ceiling of $165,000 to finish the report. During this motion several supervisors brought up concerns that county employees were being harassed during interviews, including Supervisor Van Wormer of Esperance who wanted to ask how the firm went about their investigation.

The motion was approved 14-1 with Supervisor Skowfoe providing the lone vote in dissent.

From there not a word was spoken publicly of the Fitzmaurice Report until May 2, 2013 when Supervisor Milone motioned to enter executive session to discuss the report but was prevented by a chorus of frustrated supervisors concerning the process. During which Supervisors Mann, Singletary, and Vroman stated the investigation was completed at that point, with Supervisor Lape of Richmondville confirming a $246,000 price tag and Supervisor Bradt admitting that everyone on the Board already knew what was in it.

At this point Supervisor Vroman suggested that since the lateral evaluation was complete that a different law firm should be brought in to finish the investigation, which he repeated in October when he called for the State Attorney General to "investigate the investigation," which was echoed by County Attorney Mike West: "Ms. Roach and I have discussed this," adding "we don’t believe he can be the attorney to do the next stage."

However, in the words of Supervisor Skowfoe: " a large portion of the report leads to one place.  We should finish the process," and Supervisor Milone: "they are looking to re-interview so they can come to a conclusion and to identify any wrong doing," despite the completion of their initial inquiry. This led to a series of motions that resulted in Fitzmaurice continuing the investigation with an additional $22,000 approved by a 9-6 margin.

Interestingly enough, Supervisor Skowfoe made a  motion for the report to be released during the parade of motion votes and received a second from Supervisor Singletary before immediately withdrawing it.

No more then two weeks later County Attorney West requested that the board approve another $10,000 in costs, while stating Fitzmaurice could potentially be a witness if criminal charges were filed in the aftermath of the report's additional conclusions. After questioning from Supervisor Singletary, Mr. West stated the initial report was simply a "lateral evaluation" that did not allow Fitzmaurice to cross check discrepancies.

Supervisor Mann followed by calling the investigation "biased...and I feel if the public were to see this report they would be just as outraged as I am." Supervisor Milone replied by stating "We’re looking to come to a conclusion to see if there was discrimination and targeting and what truly happened with the layoffs," wondering afterwards if "there is something people are looking to hide?"

Supervisor Singletary then stood up and delivered a long speech recounting various points of the report's timeline, quoting portions of the Fitzmaurice Report to question its investigative methods that encouraged employees that "we did not care where the source of their information came from" and that "even rumor, innuendo and hearsay were to be confirmed or dismissed if possible." Singletary finished by quoting the last three lines of the report: "It seems that many of the major problems revealed by the instant survey might have been avoided had these two principles been honored: observance of the limits of one’s office and transparency of one’s actions and dealings."

Adding that to him the Report was over with.

Supervisor Bradt retorted that the report was more than hearsay and rumor and that "In the report there were emails and letters documenting facts." Adding that "there are two very serious items that disturb me greatly." This was supported by Supervisor Buzon's statement that "I believe some of this did happen because it was corroborated." With that Supervisor Buzon introduced a motion to approve the additional $10,000 which was passed 9-6.

From here we have had two consecutive board meetings where Supervisor Mann has introduced motions to release the Fitzmaurice Report that was submitted to them earlier this year. Neither received a second, due in part to the impending release of essentially a follow-up section of the Report to the initial compilation that has exceeded $305,000 in costs to County taxpayers.

Sheriff Desmond addressed the board in September's meeting requesting "the Report" be released because he was "being asked about the department by constituents," and that "If there is something I need to change in my management style, I want to be able to address it."  The board's response was that the investigation was almost over and October would likely be the time of its release.

Which brings us to today: Fitzmaurice will be presenting his firm's final report before Supervisors at five this evening, likely in executive session before addressing the public with recommendations from the final Report that may or may not be released, depending on the sensitivity of the information it contains.

After a thorough reading of the past two year's worth of County Board minutes, which is by no means a pleasant task, there are more questions than ever concerning this report. For instance, what does it speak of Fitzmaurice that they could not complete their work in a single report and that their initial findings were based on "rumor and hearsay," rather then doing their due diligence in the first place - leading Board members to believe they would have a finished product almost eight months ago? Or that the County Attorney agreed with a supervisor that they should not have had a part in the report's conclusion and the board voted to stay with them regardless?

And what about the money spent on compiling the initial report that, despite numerous motions to release, has never seen the light of day and essentially led to a follow-up report to investigate the report? How much of the $305,000 appropriated to this report was wasted by Fitzmaurice's shoddy methods the first time around?

The questions surrounding the County Board's management of this twenty month process are too many to list in detail, but can be boiled down to one overarching sense that they went into this with honest and good intentions that ultimately split them in half with the questionable investigative methods of the law firm, the unreasonable costs to complete this investigation and the politicization of a process that was intended to uncover intimidation in the county workplace, but was delayed and allowed to languish until today's meeting - just twelve days before 14 Supervisors and two County officials are up for reelection.

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