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The Report: Health Department Civil Service Law Broken to Fit Ethington

Written By Editor on 10/25/13 | 10/25/13

Much controversy has surrounded the events in the Health Department over the last several years. With the departure of Mrs. Kathleen Strack in late 2010, Personnel Director Cassandra Ethington was charged with leading the transfer of the County Home Health program in early 2011. She was specifically not tasked with the role of leading the Department.

That changed as she became interim director on January 7, 2011. She received $3,500 for the appointment.

According to the New York State Public Health Law and NYS Department of Health in order to become a Director of Public Health a Master's Degree in public health or a related field is necessary. Mrs. Ethington instead has a two year Associate's Degree in Business Administration. The confusion on why she was appointed by the Board of Supervisors caused the staff to believe that Mrs. Ethington now held "an almost infallible position within the County and cast a cloud over the entire Health Department."

The New York State Department of Civil Service was appalled. Personnel Director Ethington requested an opinion on whether she could hold both positions. NYS Civil Service wrote back on February 21, 2012 stating that
"A member of a municipal civil service commission or personnel office... shall not hold any other public office or employment under the political subdivision over which such commission or personnel officer exercises jurisdiction.... By having responsibility as Public Health Director and Personnel Officer you would have the full range or responsibilities for appointments, terminations, disciplinary actions at the Public Health Department and also be responsible for reviewing, approving/denying and hearing appeals from the same decisions as Personnel Officer. This is an obvious structural conflict."
The Schoharie County Policies and Procedures manual describes the Personnel Officer being one of the people that employees can report claims of harassment to. So if an employee of the Health Department needed to complain about her role as Health Director, they would complain to... her as Personnel Director.

During her time as Health Director, tensions heightened. In the aftermath of the flood an empoyee was praising other employees for their role during the flood. Mrs. Ethington allegedly entered into the room and yelled at the staff for "a poor performance during the storm and thereafter." Several employees complained in the aftermath. Another employee said that this incident happened because Ethington had received a complaint from the State Department of Health. Ethington accused the employees of the Department of speaking behind her back and complaining to the State. She yelled at the employees and said that they would be written up and that some could be fired. That employee said that Mrs. Ethington's dual roles made them feel trapped. Another employee corroborated the same incident although did not remember Mrs. Ethington threatening jobs but did say that Ethington called the employees unprofessional and could be disciplined. She also felt that her job was threatened. Multiple other Health Department employees said similar things.

In another incident another employee was reprimanded by Ethington for "poor performance during a point of distribution drill where vaccines were distributed." She could not appeal the case because she would have had to appeal directly to the Personnel Director. Mrs. Ethington also screamed at the employee "for an extended period of time" for speaking to the Clerk of the County Board. This was confirmed by another employee.

Just six months later Mrs. Ethington recommended that the employee's position be abolished. The employee was to appeal to... the Personnel Director.

Another employee was yelled at for moving her desk. Mrs. Ethington screamed at her saying that she was a "diva, selfish, and had no right to adapt her plan" then made her move the desk back. Another employee heard the shouting from 60 feet away.

The Personnel Director did admit to shouting in the incident because she had worked on the floor plan for "an extended period of time" and that the employee  had argued with her. Mrs. Ethington was also on ear medication during the event.

As written about prior, yet another employee was berated by Ethington on two occasions, one for asking for union representation. Mrs. Ethington denies both incidents. Betsy Bernocco, who was present, in the Report said that both raised their voices during an incident. However, Bernocco earlier said in a court deposition earlier that this was not the case, a direct contradiction.

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