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The Report's Layoff List Findings; Supervisor Bob Mann's Response

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

During the initiation of what would become Fitzmaurice's original report twenty months ago, Schoharie Supervisor Gene Milone argued previous to filing the motion that set this entire process into what was released last night that there were allegations of both harassment and misconduct within county government, including the creation of a so called list of potential layoffs that sent public employees into a panic in November 2011.
According to the original report that was released last night: after the completion of 2012's tentative budget by co-budget officer's Alicia Terry and Paul Brady, the compilation of an additional layoff list to that of the budget's recommendations was conducted by Personnel Director Cassandra Ethington at the behest of then Finance Committee Chairman Robert Mann, the Town Supervisor of Blenheim.
Personnel Director Ethington stated that the list was assembled based off her recollections of three years worth of Board and Committee meetings where various supervisors questioned the day-to-day activities of certain individuals and when seniority, "bump" and "retreat" rights were taking into consideration. It was never intended to be anything more then a potential layoff list and would be subject to Board of Supervisors approval.
Fitzmaurice concluded that "however well intentioned" the creation of Personnel Director Ethington's layoff list was that Supervisor Mann "may have violated procedures contained in county law." And that its creation "caused a great deal of panic through out county government," although "department heads were able to recover from the surprise... and successfully argue for the retention of their personnel."
Supervisor Mann chose not to participate during Fitzmaurice's interview process, but did agree to speak with the Schoharie News and offer his side of events leading up to and after the creation of an additional layoff list almost two years ago.
Following the devastating effects of Hurricane Irene the county's economic picture was bleak: initial projections by the budget officers showed a near 20% tax increase for taxpayers to cover millions of dollars worth of flood recovery costs and loss of revenue. However, the decision was made jointly between both of the budget officers and Supervisor Mann to take flood related expenses out of the budget, reducing the overall tax levy down from 20% but it still remained over the 2% property tax cap.
The budget officers and Supervisor Mann further discussed potential paths to reduce the budget without a significant tax levy on county taxpayers - including the elimination of the safety officer position, privatizing the EMS department, laying off jail guards and other items - but ultimately the tentative budget recommendations were left to Ms. Terry and Mr. Brady. Which after its release Supervisor Mann started to press for additional cuts.
According to Supervisor Mann he not only pressed Personnel Director Ethington but "other departments as well," and that they had "lengthy meetings with every department head. Many departments, in my opinion tried very hard to work with us and offered additional spending cuts or ideas to reduce costs. Some examples were EMO volunteered to accept the weights and measures responsibility in combination with the safety officer."
This was followed by the creation of the layoff list, which Supervisor Mann described as "a sort of worst case scenario" and after learning from Personnel Director Ethington that employees needed 30 days notice prior to lay off, "wanted a list that was larger than the actual cuts would be to make sure we had options while the full board considered the budget." Adding that they "of course could make changes to the finance committee recommendations."
As it turned out Supervisor Mann, who stated "the report has provided many examples of how the list negatively impacted many county employees," believed that his course of action was "a poor decision" and that he takes "responsibility for it." He also stated that "the list should have never been released to the public or even the full board at the November 18th meeting," and he been at that particular meeting that "things may have turned out differently."
 In summary the Finance Committee that the Blenheim supervisor chaired "never reached farther down the list than what we had originally discussed in committee," and that "we never even needed the list as it turned out." Supervisor Mann concluded his remarks by agreeing with the board's decision to release the first portion of the report and that with it "in the open everyone can see the recommendations and know that the board has done nothing in eight months" to act of them.
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