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July 21, 2012

 

County wraps up misconduct probe

Lawyer will deliver report Monday on investigation of Pubic Defender’s Office

By CATHERINE WILDE
Staff Reporter
cwilde@cortlandstandard.net

The lawyer who launched an investigation into the Public Defender’s Office and allegations of an employee’s misconduct for the Cortland County Legislature, is expected to give his final report Monday.
Mike Surowka declined to comment Thursday on the final interview he conducted Wednesday at 3 p.m. with the person at the center of the investigation. A meeting of the county’s investigative committee is set for 2 p.m. Monday for Surowka to release his findings.
Legislators and Surowka have not disclosed the identity of the person. The possible target is former Public Defender Keith Dayton, who was not reappointed in the beginning of the year and came under fire by County Administrator Martin Murphy and past legislators for his outside employment at SUNY Cortland.
Dayton has maintained he did nothing wrong.
Legislator Kevin Whitney (R-Cortlandville) who chairs the investigative panel, said he is not sure what will come from Monday’s meeting.
“What he’ll be presenting is for us to find out at that point,” Whitney said.
Whitney said all legislators are welcome to sit in on the meeting.
It is not clear what the cost of the investigation will be for the county. Surowka estimated in May the bill was about $9,000 and could total $15,000 by the time he was done. The Legislature hired Surowka in February at a cost not to exceed $20,000 to look into allegations of an employee’s misconduct.
Whitney said the committee would release the total cost of the investigation Monday. The committee plans to go into executive session to discuss the matter, he said.
According to Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, Whitney’s committee is entitled to go into executive session because it is a matter dealing with the employment history of a particular person and the possible discipline of a particular person.
But Freeman said any findings of misconduct must be made public.
“If a penalty is imposed, a record indicating the nature of the penalty will be public because it represents a final determination indicating there was some sort of misconduct,” Freeman said.
If the committee determines that the allegations were unsubstantiated, then legislators would not have to disclose the matter, however Freeman said the Legislature may wish to do so anyway to clear the air. Or the person who has been investigated could choose to disclose the matter to clear his or her name, he said.
Whitney said he will let Surowka advise him on what to release. He also said he could not comment on whether the investigation has been worthwhile.
“I won’t know that until Monday,” Whitney said. “At that point it will give us the opportunity to not only assess what information was gathered but how it was gathered and whether that means it was effective or not.”
Legislator Susan Briggs (R-Cortlandville) said she will attend Monday’s meeting. Briggs said she is disappointed by the way the investigation has been handled.
“I think this could have been handled internally through various ways prior to getting to the point where we needed to hire outside counsel to handle this,” said Briggs.
Whitney said the investigative committee will review Surowka’s findings and bring the results to the full Legislature Thursday. Whitney could not say what, if any, action he expects the full Legislature to take.
“We will vet out the various issues and collectively we will make a decision amongst ourselves what should be the next course of action,” Whitney said.
The investigation panel is made up of Whitney, John Troy (D-1st Ward), Newell Willcox (R-Homer), Tony Pace (D-7th Ward) and Tom Hartnett (D-4th Ward). Personnel Director Annette Barber and Murphy advise the committee.

 

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