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Letter to the Editor: Shame on County for Cuccinello's Firing

Written By Cicero on 3/4/15 | 3/4/15

Letter to the Editor

It was with great sadness that I heard of the dismissal of Andy Cuccinello as EMS Coordinator for Schoharie County. Having been an EMT, I had the opportunity to be instructed by and work closely with Mr. Cuccinello and found him to be a very pleasant and capable medic and manager. But it was with anger and disappointment that I heard of circumstances of that dismissal.

Mr. Cuccinello is a 40+ year resident of Schoharie County. For over 30 of those years he has served as a volunteer Firefighter, TAC Force member, EMT-Paramedic, EMT instructor and 16 years as the Deputy EMS Coordinator personally responsible for saving countless lives and aiding our residents in the course of his career. He was given the position of interim EMS Coordinator after the retirement of Bill Averill and then later hired to fill the position.

The Board of Supervisors decided to add, to the already burdensome budget, a new position of Emergency Services Director in order to "fix" a system that wasn't broken. (Why not just hire a new EMO Director at no extra cost to the county taxpayers?) The position was filled with Mike Hartzel; a newly transplanted Schoharie County resident and military veteran whose service to our country I am very grateful for. I believe it is worth noting that he is also lacking any experience in Fire and EMS and has very limited experience in the Emergency Management field. Yet one of Mr. Hartzels first actions after having been in this management position for ONLY 3 MONTHS was to give Mr. Cuccinello a less than satisfactory evaluation for his EMS services over the past YEAR. Be aware that prior to that time, Mr. Cuccinello had NEVER received any negative reviews in his employment.
After a year of Mr. Cuccinello serving as EMS Coordinator, Mr. Hartzel went into executive session with the Board of Supervisors and requested Mr. Cuccinello's dismissal as Coordinator for reasons that are yet unknown to anyone outside of that meeting (as they still had him listed as "probationary"). It was granted and a demotion to the position of medic and a five figure a year cut in salary was offered to him. Mr. Cuccinello refused the offer and retired from county service. Who could blame him?
Mr. Hartzel’s actions are almost understandable. I can see that as a new resident, being inexperienced in a newly hired position, he might feel intimidated or even threatened by an intelligent and capable veteran medic such as Mr. Cuccinello. I suppose you don't really need any practical experience to be an office manager, but with actual lives on the line, a competent leader would, at the very least, listen to those who do have it and not allow ego to influence decisions that directly threaten the residents he was hired to serve. I was even willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and hear what he had to say at a meeting he had convened a week after the dismissal but was turned away at the door being told that county residents were not allowed admittance (which is a direct violation of NY State Open Meetings Law; an oversight I will chalk up towards his inexperience).
What I cannot forgive, what absolutely infuriates me, is the actions, or lack thereof, of the Schoharie County Board of Supervisors. Mr. Cuccinello was never permitted an audience with any of the committees or supervisors, never afforded the respect due to someone who has given so much, who faithfully served this county for so long; never given an explanation in regards to the destruction of his career by one transplant with ZERO NY State EMS knowledge. I personally met with Cobleskill Supervisor Leo McAllister and spoke of my dissatisfaction at their lack of respect for Mr. Cuccinello and their total disregard for his career and future given his service to them/us over the decades. He said he understood and agreed and that he would speak to the other supervisors. At the next Emergency Services meeting, Mr. McAllister asked for an executive session. After several unreturned phone calls, I have heard nothing. Nor, at last speaking, has Mr. Cuccinello.
Mr. Cuccinello informed me that he has attempted several times to speak with them but was told that it was all handled in executive session and they are forbidden to speak about it even with him. It seems to me that if you're the subject of an official meeting then you should either be told beforehand and/or, at the very least, told afterwards what you are being accused of and fired for. It seems to me that Mr. Cuccinello should be allowed to face his accuser/s and address any accusations made against him. It seems to me that he should be respected enough to be looked in the eye instead of knifed in the back by those he has faithfully served for so long. But, sadly, it also seems to me that the use of the Executive Session has become an overused vehicle enacted by power hungry moral cowards so as to be virtually unaccountable for their words or deeds. This county has so far spent over $500,000 trying to justify the termination of another county employee. A figure that is still growing, by the way. (That's right folks; despite what we've been told, that one ain't over yet!) And Mr. Cuccinello couldn’t even get a meeting? One inexperienced person was dissatisfied with his job performance and he was offered termination or a demotion with a huge pay cut. 90% of the residents of this county are dissatisfied with the job performance of the Board of Supervisors and they received a pay raise this year. I wish someone could explain THAT disparity! And I highly question that his dismissal was due to "scheduling conflicts" as Supervisor Van Glad reported in the TJ article. (Which would even be news to Mr. Cuccinello.) So the position of EMS Coordinator remains empty as there were no qualified applicants at this last posting demonstrating a huge lack of forethought by those who should have that very quality.
I can almost forgive Mike Hartzel because he hasn't been the terrified parent watching his child slowly suffocate from an asthma attack when Andy Cuccinello walks in and, in a few minutes has the kid not only breathing normally but also laughing. He hasn't been the son standing helpless as Andy works desperately to save his father in cardiac arrest. He hasn't been trapped in an all but crushed vehicle with Andy voluntarily sitting beside him calming him and tending his wounds as firefighters cut him free. He hasn't been laying on a stretcher in the back of an ambulance at 3am on a cold, snowy night breathing what he thinks is his last few breaths only to have Andy reassure him that his life will continue. Mike hasn't. The members of the Board of Supervisors, however, have. Some have directly benefited from his services and dedication to duty and their actions should reflect some semblance of decency and loyalty to that dedication. I say shame on any of them who allowed this travesty to occur. Shame on you!
Despite this county’s lack of true leadership, I have every confidence in the two competent but overworked medics we have left and pray that they are allowed to do their jobs and that no resident meets harm or death because of the actions of the few cowardly or egotistical individuals in positions of authority.

Maria C. Cartwright
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Norie61 said...

POWER is a funny thing, it does strange things to one's head. This Board of Supervisors are as inexperienced as the new Coordinator, even though some have years of being present. But to be fair, I don't know what they had on him either.I guess the law states you can be fired for anything or nothing, you have no say in the matter.You will win unemployment benefits and that's about it.Unless you can prove it was done out of malice, there is no recourse.

Unknown said...

Shameful.Andy Cuccinello has give his life to Schoharie County for sometime. Traveling in bad weather and good. He is know to most of this county for his professionalism. My question to this Board is who is Mike Hartzel and who is he in bed with . To have No training in NY State EMS .I smell something and it not a skunk..

Anonymous said...

Take the time to look up "Imperious Cockalorum" .... That is Mr. Hartzel in a nutshell.

Deputy said...

Play my way or get crushed! The same old story huh? Funny too that the changes Andy was fighting to protect the program are now not happening anyway. And who does an annual review after 90 days? And who does Mike's? Because in my eyes and many others 'ya just ain't cuttin it kid.' Look, Mike running EMS is like me running IEDs! The difference is, I would know enough to know I didn't know enough, and those who did should do the job! DISGRACE.

Kris said...

Schoharie just got lost one very expensive lawsuit for improper firing. Looks like they are in for another one...

Anonymous said...

How many more examples of futility,lack of judgement or just plain old stupidity do we have to witness? I'm already convinced the Supervisors are in over their heads. Every misstep, every mistake they make and the county residents end up paying for their incompetence. THANK YOU ANDY! Your dedication and knowledge will be missed. Good Luck!

Flipped said...

Just one more reason I will NOT be voting for my Stuporvisor... err... Supervisor, when (if he has the audacity) he seeks re-election.

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