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Legislators vote to halt investigation; more arrests in department to come?

Kim Martin, an employee in the Sullivan County Division of Family Services, testifies during public comment.
TRR photos by Fritz Mayer

By Fritz Mayer
July 25, 2014

The Sullivan County Legislators voted five to three on July 24 to rescind a resolution that authorized county manager Josh Potosek to spend up to $175,000 on an investigation.

Gerald Orseck, an attorney representing Randy Parker, the commissioner of the Sullivan County Division of Family Services (DFS), said the investigation targeted his client, but some 40 whistleblower complaints against Parker had been made by employees who were reacting to Parker’s attempt to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse from the system.

Three people from DFS were arrested last fall and Orseck said more arrests were likely coming. He said, “In the near future, there are probably going to be three more criminal arrests and indictments of employees for fraudulently giving away money to fraudulent beneficiaries to vendors, etc. What happens is that the employees who have not yet been caught, and other employees whose job performance is atrocious—it will come out—have collectively put together the so-called 40 whistleblower complaints against Randy Parker.”

Also during public comment, DFS employee Kim Martin said that she also filed whistleblower complaints, but not against Parker, instead against others in the department because she found they were committing fraud. In fact, three of the people she filed complaints against were those arrested last fall. She said she suffered serious retaliation because of her actions, but county officials had so far denied her retaliation claim, and her appeal is pending.

Legislators differed sharply in their opinions of whether the board should rescind the resolution regarding payment to pay for the investigation.

Legislator Cindy Geiger, who said she was on a mission to reform the delivery of social services in the county, said, “There is reason to believe … that the focus of this investigation is to assist the county manager in efforts to remove or sanction Commissioner Parker. The timeline of events over the last several years deserves serious scrutiny.”

Legislator Cora Edwards said she has not received conclusive determinations from two previous investigations, and she has been told by various law enforcement professionals that the $175,000 cost of the investigation was very high.

Legislator Kathy LaBuda said her obligation as an elected legislator is to make sure all of the county employees are protected.


Press release from four legislators
Legislators Denounce Emergency Meeting

Four members of the Sullivan County Legislature are speaking out against Thursday's "Special" meeting of the County Legislature, for the reported purpose of rescinding a resolution passed just last week during regularly scheduled committee and Full Board meetings.

Legislature Chairman Scott Samuelson said, "This attempt by a faction of the Legislature to rescind Resolution NO. 267-14, which authorized an independent, outside firm to investigate serious personnel issues with the County government, is deeply disturbing. This meeting was called, twice, without consulting all members of the Legislature about their availability for a quorum, because this faction of legislators has already made up their decision. They didn't feel the need to share their concerns with their colleagues before calling a meeting to rescind the resolution. This political maneuver smacks of backdoor politics, a lack of transparency and is exactly the type of governing these legislators have spent two years grandstanding against."

Legislator Ira Steingart said, "The County employees deserve a workplace free of intimidation, threats of retaliation and they deserve to know that their concerns are being investigated by an unbiased and neutral party. The attempt to rescind this resolution is an attempt to rescind their workplace rights, and is, quite simply, unconscionable. The faction of legislators who have taken it upon themselves to rescind this resolution will say the investigation is unnecessary, but when hundreds of employees and thousands of citizens are potentially impacted, we owe it to them to conduct an independent investigation. Neither the County employees, nor the County's citizens, are being well served by allowing these serious personnel issues to continue, unchecked."

Majority Leader Kathleen M. LaBuda said, "As legislators we are duly sworn to serve the people. We don't get to duck the hard issues because they may not be politically popular. No one wants to spend $100,000 investigating personnel issues when we have roads and bridges that need repairing, but it is what needs to be done to ensure the County government operates in a professional manner, without intimidation or threats. Time after
time this Legislature has voted unanimously to support efforts to root out fraud, waste and abuse wherever it exists. If this faction of legislators who called the meeting Thursday is committed to this mission, then I have to ask what are they afraid the independent counsel's report will uncover?"

Legislator Jonathan Rouis said, "The County Manager advised the Legislature of a series of personnel issues that he felt were severe and disturbing enough to have investigated by an independent and unbiased firm. The Legislature supported him. For this meeting to be called a week later, against the County Manager's request and while he is on a previously-scheduled family vacation is perplexing at best. We are charged with creating policy, not managing the County's workforce. We have set a policy against bullying, intimidation and threats of retaliation. I think it's ridiculous to consider rescinding a resolution that the Manager feels he needs to appropriately execute this policy and one that ensures the County's workforce their rights are being protected."
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Statement from legislator Cindy Gieger

Today we are rescinding a resolution to conduct a very costly investigation which, according to the resolution, would be under the direction of and report solely to the county manager … no mention of legislative oversight. This is the third investigation regarding complaints where information was limited or never presented. Equally troubling are the numerous requests from legislators for summaries or reports which have been ignored. There is reason to believe … that the focus of this investigation is to assist the county manager in efforts to remove or sanction Commissioner Parker. The timeline of events over the last several years deserves serious scrutiny.

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Press Release from legislator Cora Edwards

With regard to complaints in the Department of Family Services, it is my understanding that the most recent investigation (resolution in question #267-14 authorizing $175,000 for Mc Cabe Associates) is the third investigation since I’ve been a legislator. We still have not received conclusive determinations from the first two investigations (one conducted by Art Hawker and one conducted by Roemer Associates).

“Many respected members of the law enforcement and legal communities have told me that the$175,000 price tag (on the resolution under consideration for rescinding) is an outrageous amount. It is half of what is paid to Conflict Legal Aid firm for a full year ($350,000) and could be better spent other ways; either by hiring a full-time investigator or by having a Moreland-type Commission to review these matters as a whole including previous investigations for the sake of the County’s future.”

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Statement from Kim Martin, self-described whistlebower

My Name is Kim Martin.

I am a Whistleblower.

I am a Sullivan County Taxpayer, and a Sullivan County employee. I am speaking out here today, compelled to no longer be silent on the events that have unfolded in my life, at the hands of some very powerful, unscrupulous people who are in the top levels of local government. In 2012, I discovered and reported fraudulent activity at the department of Health and Family Services, being committed by one of my co-workers.

This was not the first time that I had found or reported that fraud was going on. In fact, it was the third time, and I simply could no longer stand by and watch this occur. I reached out to a legislator, one who ran on a platform of transparency, and cutting fraud, waste and abuse.

As soon as I told my supervisor I was doing that, I became a target. I was harassed by my supervisors, and a group of co-workers. I was taunted, I was intimidated, I was belittled, and I was retaliated against.

Once my supervisor became adamant about moving me to another department, I took control of what would happen next. I reached out to my Union Representative, whom I had never spoken to before, looking for help. I was instructed to file for whistleblower protection, which quite frankly in Sullivan County is an oxymoron.

Before I even got back to my office, my supervisor knew where I was. Things became more hostile than ever. In the course of the year, I had all I could to do to stay, but support from my friends gave me the strength I needed.

Today, I am speaking out, because as a true whistleblower I am protected under the law. Since the County exposed me as a whistleblower in July of 2013, to the people who I had reported – and who have subsequently been arrested, I no longer wish to remain silent.

It is time the taxpayers in Sullivan County know the truth.

It is time that people are held accountable, and time for the cover up to stop.

I filed a claim of retaliation with the County of Sullivan, because of the hostile working conditions I had to endure at the hands of my supervisors and certain co-workers. That claim took forever for the county to do anything with. They repeatedly blew me off, and I have tons of documents to prove it, passing me back and forth from the County Manager, to Personnel, to the County Attorney’s office.

The county eventually hired an outside consultant, Arthur Hawker, to investigate my claim of retaliation.

Despite the fact that this was recorded, and despite the fact that Mr. Hawker ensured me I would receive a copy of his findings, I was denied both, on repeated occasions by the County Attorney. Randy Parker would learn of my report, but was instructed to leave it alone, by high ranking County Officials.

David Sager was also aware, and was instructed the same thing.

But, criminals often re-offend, and soon enough, both Randy and David would become aware of only a small portion of my buried whistleblower claim, and begin investigating it.

My retaliation claim was denied and the denial letter was sent to every person I had filed my whistleblower complaint against.

The County exposed me to those I reported. I attempted an appeal, but that turned out to be a joke, as the appeal committee was made up of the County Attorney, the County Manager, and Personnel Director.

Ms. McClausland was not even going to let me speak about my case. Had it not been for my “forceful” Union Representative, I would not have been heard.

To date, I still have no answer from my appeal. Despite the fact that arrests occurred and I was told in writing, that I would have a decision when the criminal portion was done.

I have been persistent. So persistent that Assistant County Attorney, Cheryl McClausland even had the audacity to accuse me of creating my own hostile working environment. I have that in writing as well.

I created the hostile environment? By doing my job? And reporting fraud?

Everything that had been done, or that management was attempting to do to me, was my fault!

Every day was a roller coaster ride. Who would target me today, who will threaten to kick my ass, who will ignore me… this went on for weeks at a time, which turned to months, and every day I found it harder and harder to stay.

They were trying to break me.

So now, I sit by, and I watch day after day, as the County applies the same tactics to the case of Randy Parker.

Does everyone know here that the County hired a second consultant, the law firm of Roemer, Wallens, and Mineaux, to look into the complaints that employees lodged against Parker?

Does the public know that the amount paid was more than double what the legislature authorized?

Does the public know that employees were given a number to call and leave their complaints on a voicemail?

Doesn’t that seem like they were soliciting complaints?

Regardless of that fact, it is obvious that the investigation and the report was not what some of you wanted to hear.

Since, Mr. Parker is still here, and since you have attempted to change the whistleblower policy – removing fraud, but adding everything under the sun, to make the reports of several disgruntled employees now “protected”.

I reported a legitimate case of fraud. I was not protected by this County, I was accosted by it!

Now, in order to protect one of your own, you will go to any lengths.

I was offered protection from only a few, including Randy Parker, and Gerry Dietz. Both of whom then became your targets.

The taxpayers in Sullivan County deserve justice. Many dedicated, honest & hardworking employees deserve justice.

Each of you took an oath of office. You are elected to serve the public. Many of you ran to change the ways of Government.

You ran on honesty, transparency, and fairness. Many of you are not worthy of the public’s trust.

Many of you forgot why you were elected, or have succumbed your own agendas.

The resolution to authorize an investigation into just cause against Randy Parker is a witch hunt.

You have paid for two investigations already, which you have kept under lock and key, because they didn’t go your way.

How much are you willing to pay to get the answer you want? That is what it is really about.

I applaud Cindy Geiger, Cora Edwards, Gene Benson, Kitty Vetter, and Alan Sorensen, and any of the rest of you who have the courage to step up and rescind the resolution authorizing $175,000 of taxpayer funds to cover up decades of mismanagement, fraud, waste, and abuse.

We the taxpayers deserve the truth.

We deserve a legislature that works for us.

We want you to allow Randy Parker to do the job you hired him to do.