Thursday, February 2, 2012

Ballston Bookkeeper Drama 2/2

A couple of thoughts on yesterday's news that Joann Bouchard has served the Town of Ballston and Supervisor Patti Southworth with a notice of claim, which is generally the precursor to a lawsuit.

Here's the abridged version for those who don't know what I'm talking about:

In November, Bouchard was fired from her bookkeeping job less than 24 hours after she helped Bill Goslin obtain some of the town's financial information. The Board had previously authorized Goslin to acquire the information, but he used a flash drive, which Southworth said isn't standard practice.

Southworth has never confirmed nor denied the incident was related to Bouchard's termination, though Town Board members have said that has to be the case. They also don't believe Bouchard did anything wrong and demanded Southworth reinstate the bookkeeper. Southworth refused.

The Board then voted to abolish the position, which meant Southworth had to take over the town's bookkeeping duties or no one was getting paid. The Town Board has since created a new bookkeeping post.

More on the notice of claim after the jump.

Bouchard's attorney is alleging that the termination was wrongful because Southworth didn't have the sole authority to fire Bouchard and that the actions entitle Bouchard to lost wages and benefits. Bouchard's attorney, Cheryl Sovern, told me that the notices need to be served within 90 days of termination.

If nothing is settled, Sovern said, a lawsuit will be filed. Southworth wouldn't comment on the notice of claim, but she said the town has insurance to protect it against potential lawsuits like this.

There's a marked divide in the Ballston Town Board. If it's not a unanimous vote, the split is generally 3 to 2 and 99 percent of the time it winds up being Tim Szczepaniak, Mary Beth Hynes and Goslin vs. Jeremy Knight and Southworth.

There was no vote to fire Bouchard, which is part of the reason why Sovern says Bouchard has a case, but that 3 to 2 divide was illustrated when the position was abolished.

Sovern alluded to that divide in her claim, alleging that Southworth has made comments to Bouchard about the bookkeeper's wishes to remain politically neutral. Southworth said she wouldn't comment on the notice, but Sovern told me that Bouchard is a "scapegoat in a political fight."

Not sure I buy that.

If Southworth wanted one of her cronies in that post, she could have let Bouchard go when Southworth was sworn into office. The position is appointed annually, Southworth has told me, so she could have also waited until the end of 2011 and just selected someone else.

I'm not an attorney, but it seems like a lot of this case hinges upon what rights politically-appointed positions have under town code.

The Town Code doesn't give the supervisor the authority to fire town employees by themselves, but Jack Kalinkewicz, the head of the Saratoga County Personnel Department, told me that state law does give supervisors the authority to fire their confidential employees.

"It's a matter of interpretation of which statue you want to throw this under," Kalinkewicz said.

Sounds like a job for a judge and jury.

Until next time,




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