In split decision, Clifton Park City Council hires law firm to investigate claims of toxic environment inside City Hall – The Daily Gazette

CLIFTON PARK – The three female members of the all-Republican Clifton Park City Council voted on Monday to hire a law firm to investigate what they describe as “a toxic atmosphere” inside the hotel. city ​​and on allegations of employee abuse, including a complaint filed with the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office that alleges supervisor Phil Barrett got hold of an employee.

The city council’s split decision to hire an outside attorney sparked outrage on Monday from many members of the public, who worried about the cost of legal fees to be paid for what many described as a smear campaign against Supervisor Barrett , who has been in office. for more than two decades.

Board members Amy Standaert, Lynda Walowit and Amy Flood voted to hire attorney Hilary Moreira, of Bond, Schoeneck & King Attorneys, based in Garden City, New York. Moreira’s current hourly rate is $335, according to a letter Moreira wrote to the city council that was included in the resolution. The company’s hourly rate can range from $185 to $495, depending on the letter. Barrett and Councilman Anthony Morelli, who said he was not involved in the interview with the law firm, voted against the measure.

Barrett, who attended the meeting virtually due to what he described as an abundance of caution with the rise in COVID-19 cases, called the law firm’s hiring a policy and a attempt to establish a narrative that Standaert could use to her advantage if she ran for supervisor.

“It’s a question of politics. This resolution is about the three board members trying to get ahead of a problem that they created,” Barrett said. “It’s a matter of policy and, unfortunately, it has created a climate of mistrust among some employees.”

Standaert said the claims of political motivations are false. She said the case originated in an April 4 memo from city attorney Thomas R. McCarthy to city council describing a city official was abusive and creating a toxic work environment. That memo led to a spirited executive session on April 11 to try to resolve workplace issues, Standaert said. But during this executive session, McCarthy, Standaert and Barrett all raised their voices and pointed fingers, Council members Walowit and Morelli described during Monday night’s meeting.

The complaint that Barrett got hold of an employee came in the weeks following that meeting.

“A report was filed referring to some sort of physical altercation. This followed a very serious adverse personal action that occurred,” Barrett said Monday. “I had taken a very serious personal action against a employee, and apparently that’s what followed.”

Now, the outside law firm has been hired to investigate alleged violations of city policies and other labor and employment matters, according to the resolution.

“We believe the claim of a hostile work environment should not be ignored and should be investigated,” Standaert said. She said outside counsel is required for impartiality.

“I was told we weren’t going with a local law firm because of the political ramifications that might arise,” she said. “I don’t want politics to come into play here.”

Anna Marie Connolly, administrator of the Clifton Park Neighbors Facebook page, said she heard directly from city workers who questioned claims about the toxic workplace inside City Hall. She said employees told her they were being asked to testify against Barrett.

“I told the employees who contacted me to put a video recorder in your pocket – you don’t have to be threatened,” she said. “It’s a shame what happened to Clifton Park City Council. Is there such a struggle for control and power? »

But Councilor Walowit said she had heard from city workers that the environment inside City Hall had deteriorated in recent years.

“I think some of you don’t believe what we hear and what we’ve heard over the last few years, actually,” Walowit said. “My main objective is to solve the toxic problems within the town hall. My main effort is to protect the staff, to put them in a situation where they can speak without fear of reprisal.

Barrett said workplace grievances involve a tiny fraction of the city’s workforce.

“Besides the very small number of employees that this whole issue entails, everyone just wants to do what they’ve always done: come to work, do their job, do it well, and go home,” Barrett said.

Barrett said the controversy was just the latest in an attempt to give him a bad name. In January, a photo of Barrett circulated the representative with his mask in a parking lot.

“A photo was taken of me next to my car with a mask on my chin,” Barrett said. “It was then used to say that I was walking towards city employees and residents without a mask.”

He said leveling claims against opponents is often an unfortunate part of politics.

“It’s underhanded, it’s dirty, it’s – in my mind – a horrible way to do business,” Barrett said. “But that’s the reality at Clifton Park at this point, which is sad.”

Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.

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