CATSKILL — Greene County lawmakers plan to change employment policies regarding the hiring of relatives, the county administrator confirmed Thursday.
The current policy, which prohibits a family member from working as a subordinate for a direct relative, has been in effect since 2007. Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden reviewed the policy after controversy over Sheriff Greg Seeley’s intent to hire his son as a deputy surfaced last month.
“I reviewed this policy, which is years old,” Groden said in a statement. “Now there is debate as to whether or not the policy is even legal. Denying someone career opportunities for no other reason than family ties is questionable. This county has many employees who are related to each other, even including spouses both working for us. Plus, we have a civil service system that reviews an applicant’s credentials to determine if they qualify for employment. DNA is not a disqualifying event. We will be updating our Administrative Manual accordingly.”
In July, Groden said Matthew Seeley could not be hired until Sheriff Greg Seeley retired, according to current policy.
He would also have to take the civil service exam Sept. 14 and pending those results, then he could be hired, but not by his father, Groden said.
Groden said Matthew Seeley was hired as a provisional employee May 18.
“Matthew Seeley is employed as a provisional employee, pending his completion and successful scoring of a civil service exam,” Groden said. “If he passes the exam and is reachable, meaning he must score in the top three spots, he will be appointed as a permanent employee,” Groden said. “Provisional status is very common in governmental employment as civil service tests are only given infrequently and eligible lists have expiration dates.”
Matthew Seeley is being paid $22 an hour and works part-time as a per diem employee, Groden said.
“Currently all new hires are Provisional and Per Diem as there is no current Civil Service Test,” Groden said.
Matthew Seeley is not receiving benefits for this position, Groden said.
Several legislators were surprised to learn that the policy was going to be changed.
“It was put in place for a reason,” Legislator William Lawrence, R-Cairo, said. “You don’t want someone hired for a bias reason working for you.”
Groden is working on language changes with the state Civil Service Office, he said. Then the draft will go to the Administrative Manual Committee, of which Lawrence is a member and Groden oversees, before going to the full Legislature.
“I can’t give an honest opinion until I see the wording,” Lawrence said.
The board has not discussed changing the policy, Lawrence said.
“My belief is, don’t fix something that’s not broken,” he said.
Lawrence felt out of the loop, he said.
“You’re catching me unaware,” he said. “We assumed [Matthew] would be hired after the sheriff retired in December. I think they should have gone through the change in wording before they hired him.”
Legislator Jack Keller, R-Catskill, was not aware of any pending changes. Keller supports the current policy.
“You cannot work for a direct relative, not in government,” Keller said.
Legislature Chairman Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore, said he supports the current policy.
“It has worked so far up until this point and if it needs clarification, that’s what we’ll do,” Linger said. “I can’t give an opinion until I see the update.”
Linger agreed that the board had not discussed the matter.
Legislator Matthew Luvera, R-Catskill, said the board does not have to initiate the change to the policy, just approve the change.
As county administrator, Groden has the authority to initiate changes to the Administrative Manual, Luvera said. As a county department, the sheriff’s office should not receive special treatment, Luvera said.
“The sheriff’s office should be following the policy like everybody else,” he said.
Legislator Michael Bulich, R-Catskill, agreed.
“I think it’s a good policy,” Bulich said. “I don’t see why he’s even provisionally employed.”
Because the sheriff is an elected official, the Legislature has no authority over his constitutional powers, Groden said.
The sheriff also has control over who he hires and appoints, Luvera added.
The sheriff said last month he disagrees with the current policy.
“I’m furious my kid has to get penalized over this,” he said. “That policy is absolutely wrong.”
Matthew Seeley put in the time and training to become a deputy and deserves the position, the sheriff said.
“I’m not disputing the policy exists,” he said. “To be honest, I don’t know if I ever looked at the manual.”
Seeley said he thinks he and his son are being treated unfairly.
“This is the thanks I get after 34 years with this county?” Seeley said. “Are you serious? This is the thanks I get from The Daily Mail after all the help I’ve given you? You know, what goes around comes around.”
Sheriff candidate Diana Benoit, who is running on the state Independence line, spoke out against nepotism.
“It should be about what you know, not who you know,” Benoit said last month. “There has to be standards for hiring, more than just what civil service has. You have to be careful with nepotism and hiring families.”
Sheriff candidate Pete Kusminsky, who is running on the Republican line, said the issue could reach beyond the county.
“This could be a civil service issue and Greene County would have to abide by their rules as well as any applicable county administrative policy that deals with employment,” he said.
Columbia County does not have a policy against favoritism, Human Resources Director Michaele Williams-Riordon said.
Albany County also does not have a policy, Director of Communications Mary Rozak said.
The Legislature had discussed an anti-nepotism policy, Rozak said, but it did not come to fruition.
Greene County’s policy states: “Greene County will avoid the practice of appearance of favoritism in hiring and the assignment of employees. Therefore, an employee’s immediate relative will not be hired for or assigned to a position within the chain of command of the current employee or in the same work unit as the current employee.”
The policy also applies to transfers — an employee cannot transfer into the chain of command of their relative or into a relative’s unit.
The manual also lists as an informational item stating that any county employee who has a relative seeking employment should completely recuse themselves from the hiring process.
Immediate relatives are defined as a spouse, mother, father, brother, sister or child, according to the manual.
The policy does not prohibit relatives from working in the county.
“This policy does not prohibit the hiring of an employee’s immediate relative for a position which is not in the immediate chain of command of the employee or which is not in the same work unit as the current employee,” according to the manual.