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Health Director Appointment May Have Abused NYS Law

Written By Editor on 10/19/13 | 10/19/13

The Report still may not be out, but the issues surrounding it are still in the ether. Despite the fact that the actual document has been released, other court documents and facts surrounding the launching of the Report investigation seem to show a pattern of abuse that led to the inquiry.

One of the most common complaints was that Civil Service law was repeatedly abused over the last several years. There have been multiple complaints about the issue, especially surrounding the Personnel Office.

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.

However, in the case of Penny Grimes vs. the County of Schoharie and Cassandra Ethington, there was a different tone. In this case Mrs. Ethington claimed that she was not, in fact, the Director of the Health Department. Judge Eugene Divine wrote in the case's decision against Mrs. Grimes that:
"Ethington flatly denies that she assumed or appeared to assume any director role at the department and that Betsy Bernocco voluntarily assumed the director responsibilities"
In a deposition, Ethington wrote that:
"I never told New York State Civil Service that I was acting or interim director of the Department and can only speculate who might have"
However, in a letter to the New York State Civil Service Department she asked about her role to "perform the functions relative to the County's Public Health Director." The petitioner also claimed that Mrs. Ethington regularly told the employees in the Department that she, in fact, was the interim director.

There was also significant confusion on the Board of Supervisors itself on how exactly Mrs. Ethington assumed such a position. At the December 16, 2011 meeting of the Board of Supervisors, Esperance Supervisor Earl van Wormer asked who was in charge of the Health Department. Jefferson Supervisor Dan Singletary responded, "We put Mrs. Ethington in charge." Mr. van Wormer was confused because he believed that she was tasked with selling the County home nursing program and said, "I do not recollect that, put in charge of sale of CHHA." He later added that this needed to be rectified due to concern about liability.

According to the New York State Public Health Law 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 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.
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