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"The Report" Followed Multiple Accusations of Misconduct in Human Resources

Written By Editor on 10/14/13 | 10/14/13

The Schoharie County Board of Supervisors and the taxpayers of the area wait on pins and needles for what will happen next with the "Report" due out later this week. While there have been denials of the newsworthiness of the process from individuals such as Jefferson Supervisor Dan Singletary, other data seems to point otherwise.

The whole process began early last year-- about the same time as large shifts in personnel in the County. There were multiple layoffs in the County Sheriff's Department and around the other departments in late 2011. While some of these jobs were saved, it was a bitter pill to swallow. County Treasurer Bill Cherry called out Human Resources Director Cassandra Ethington-- saying that if there were any layoffs the first should be "the personnel director."

This also comes as some of the laid off have accused the Supervisors and the HR Department of engineering some actions as direct payback for other actions.

Penny Grimes was among those laid off. In April 2012 she launched a suit against Schoharie County, specifically Cassandra Ethington. The suit was ultimately dismissed with Judge Eugene Devine writing in his August 2012 judgement that the dismissal was "not made out of personal malice." Still, the accusations seem to have resurfaced in the research done for the Report.

For example, Ms. Grimes described her entire relationship with the Personnel Director to be "extremely poor," in part accusing that Mrs. Ethington "went out of her way to verbally abuse me, criticize me and attempted to strip me of the responsibilities that I exercised for many years." At one meeting attended by former Richmondville Supervisor Betsy Bernocco in 2010 Ethington allegedly screamed at the plantiff for two-and-a-half hours, resulting in the prescription of an anti-depressant.

One of the central points of the lawsuit was that actions taken by Ethington were political in nature. Grimes alleged that Ethington attempted to force out the backers of the last Health Department chief Kathleen Strack and that Ms. Grimes' firing was part of an ""illegal pattern of hiring younger, inexperienced employees and eliminating older employees."

In the supporting and opposing documentation, the implications reached a fever pitch. Anne MacCuish from the Emergency Management Office submitted in a deposition that she was present for the alleged shouting incident and that Mrs. Ethington was so involved that "I became concerned because of the length of time that the yelling continued." She also states that this was only one incident of several.

Part of the documentation implied that Mrs. Ethington used her position to benefit her mother. While there was a shake-up at the Health Department, Mrs. Ethington's mother was hired as the Nursing Supervisor. It was alleged that later, when the County was forced to downsize, the supporters of the previous coordinator were placed on the chopping block directly organized in a list by the Personnel Director.

Karen Karker, a Preschool Special Needs Assistant also alleged to be witness to the pattern. She stated that she was berated by Mrs. Ethington for moving her desk. There were other incidents-- to the point that Ms. Karker indicated on a self-assessment conflict with her supervisor-- for which she was "vigorously criticize[d]."

While Mrs. Ethington's office determined that Ms. Grimes simply "handed out pamphlets," as implied in the court paperwork, there are multiple documents indicating otherwise. Kathleen Strack, the immediate prior Health Director stated that during her tenure that was not the case. Meanwhile there were five documents coming from various sources including Cobleskill Regional Hospital, Cornell Cooperative Extension, and others, stating that Ms. Grimes was an integral part of supporting their operations.

Mrs. Ethington's deposition denied all wrongdoing. As far as the alleged shouting incident, she stated:
"[Ms. Grimes] was particularly resistant to doing the time logs, saying she felt they were demeaning. Again, Ms. Bernocco and I tried to explain to her that the Board of Supervisors wanted all positions evaluated in light of the difficult fiscal times faced by the County."
She stated that she had "lost a degree of patience" but never raised her voice during the meeting. In addition, a deposition by Betsy Bernocco backs up this version of events, saying that Mrs. Ethington did not raise her voice once. Ms. Bernocco also saw no personal dislike of Ms. Strack by Mrs. Ethington.

Mrs. Ethington also writes that she had a largely "professional" relationship with Ms. Strack, including taking their children to a lake to swim and holding a Pampered Chef party at her house.

In another lawsuit filed in April 2012, former Planning Department employee Sean Jordan alleges in part that Mrs. Ethington mislead him about compensation and advancement in his job. This lawsuit was also dismissed. In a deposition filed, Mr. Jordan states that Mrs. Ethington led him to believe that additional workload would be additionally compensated. Instead, his research was used by the Personnel Director to create a position meant to replace him. Mrs. Ethington stated in a separate deposition that she had followed proper procedure and did not promise anything untoward.

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Anonymous said...

The Times Journal of Cobleskill , specifically Mr. Poole was told all about this situation and multiple others four years ago and he choose to ignore them.
Perhaps that useless rag can fold and the internet media can take over.

Bl12043 said...

I don't get it, two cases brought to court and dismissed for no wrong doing, but statements by laid off employees in the report has more weight. I guess you hear what you want when it works for you or your side.

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