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October 30, 2012

 

With Dayton cleared, next step unclear

Some legislators call for apology, others want compromise on vacation time lawsuit

By CATHERINE WILDE
Staff Reporter
cwilde@cortlandstandard.net

Friday’s ruling from a Tompkins County prosecutor, clearing former Cortland County Public Defender Keith Dayton of any wrongdoing, left county officials unsure what comes next.
Legislator Susan Briggs (R-Cortlandville), who had backed a resolution to drop the entire matter that failed in September, said Monday she thinks Dayton is owed a public apology.
Tompkins County District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson issued a statement Friday saying that Dayton had not violated county policy or done anything to merit a grand jury investigation.
Briggs said the first step is for the Legislature to receive and file Wilkinson’s report to publicly acknowledge the findings.
Dayton had been the subject of an investigation since February, when the county hired Binghamton attorney Mike Surowka to look into allegations of possible misconduct. Surowka alleged Dayton misused county time by working outside jobs on county time and by improperly accounting for hours worked.
Dayton has maintained he did nothing wrong and now he says he will soon be seeking summary judgement of his July lawsuit against the county in which he seeks $17,000 in owed vacation time.
Briggs thinks the county should drop the counterclaim seeking $24,000 from Dayton, which County Attorney Ed Purser filed without legislative authority in July, and pay Dayton the $17,000.
Briggs says the county should “look to itself” to fix problems with the employment policy manual and ensure there are no similar problems in the future.
She says the actions by certain legislators to pursue the investigation of Dayton have caused her to mistrust their motivations.
“To take a good employee who served the county for 12 years and turn around with some bogus claims based on an employment policy they were fully aware of ... is outrageous,” Briggs said.
In her ruling Friday, Wilkinson cited the county’s employment policy manual and said there was nothing in the manual prohibiting Dayton from working outside jobs or from using flexible scheduling to accommodate off-hour job duties, as long as the staff put in the minimum 35 hours weekly.
“No evidence was presented or discovered that suggests Mr. Dayton worked less than 35 hours in any week,” Wilkinson said.
Briggs wants County Administrator Martin Murphy and Legislature Chairman Mike Park (R-Homer) to issue a public apology to Dayton.
Neither Park nor Murphy returned calls for comment,
“My concern is, every time we are given information I will now question the validity of it and question the process taken to get to wherever we’re at,” Briggs said.
She said there is “real concern” about the leadership of the county now.
But other legislators like Tony Pace (D-7th Ward) stand behind the county’s actions.
Pace said the county did what it had to do all along.
“There were allegations made. We have an obligation to investigate them. If we did nothing, we’d be accused of covering up corruption,” Pace said, calling it a “no-win” situation.
Pace said Dayton deserved to have his name cleared and now the matter is over.
He said he was surprised by Wilkinson’s ruling, saying she interpreted the employee policy manual literally.
Pace said that the manual does not allow for compensatory time, so any time put in above and beyond the regular eight-hour work day should be considered part of the day. He said he would address the language of the policy manual at this month’s meeting of the Personnel Committee, which he now chairs.
Legislator John Troy (D-1st Ward) is also concerned that the ruling opens the doors for other departments to be flexible with their hours worked.
“There’s never been any policy for ‘flexible’ time, the word (Wilkinson) used,” Troy said.
Troy said the wording of the employee policy manual will have to be reconsidered. But he said complications will arise if attorneys who regularly work night hours are treated differently from other employees.
“We would have to follow the same rules,” Troy said. “If public defenders are allowed time off for working over 35 hours, others would be too.”
Legislator Ray Parker (D-2nd Ward) said he would readily vote in favor of any resolution to end the countersuit and pay Dayton the $17,000.
Troy said he hopes some compromise could be reached.

 

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