CATSKILL — Greene County’s nepotism policy will stand, lawmakers said, in the wake of Greene County Sheriff Greg Seeley’s hiring of his son.
Lawmakers discussed how the county should address such situations in the future during a Government Operations meeting last week.
Legislator Michael Bulich, R-Catskill, asked if the county needed something in place to prevent these situations.
“Is that something we should look at?” Bulich asked.
Legislator Harry Lennon, D-Cairo, said the hiring process should have been more transparent.
“Whenever there is an appearance of impropriety, you must disclose it immediately,” Lennon said.
Because the deputy positions are filled through Civil Service, the board does have approval authority over them, Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden said.
Greene County Attorney Edward Kaplan would not approve of a department head directly supervising a relative, he said at the meeting.
Greene County’s employment 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.”
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.
The manual also lists as an informational item that any county employee who has a relative seeking employment should completely recuse themselves from the hiring process.
In July, Groden said Matthew Seeley could not be hired until his father retired as sheriff, according to current policy.
Groden later confirmed that Matthew Seeley was hired as a provisional employee in May.
“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.”
Although the hiring was a violation of the administrative manual, it is not something that can be enforced, Groden said.
The legality of the policy came into question, Groden said.
“There was a question of legality and whether it flew in the face of the law,” Groden at the meeting.
The question lay in whether a candidate could be denied based on their DNA, he said.
“I reviewed this policy, which is years old,” Groden said in August. “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.”
Groden said he would be working on language changes with the state Civil Service Office, and then the draft would go to the Administrative Manual Committee for review, before going to the full Legislature.
Legislator William Lawrence, R-Cairo, who sits on the committee, said this item has not been reviewed.
The committee will meet Jan. 9, Lawrence said Thursday, adding that he did not think the nepotism policy was on the list of items to be addressed.
“It might no longer be an issue,” Lawrence said. “This was precipitated by the sheriff hiring his son. He retires next week.”
Kaplan did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.
Catskill resident and staunch anti-jail advocate Scott Myers filed a lawsuit against the county in August, claiming the county violated its own hiring policy.
Kaplan responded to Myers’ claims, stating that his documents were not signed by a state Supreme Court Justice and therefore did not constitute an Order to Show Cause, that Myers only gave one day of notice instead of the required eight days between serving his notice and his scheduled hearing, and that his motion lacked an affidavit.
Kaplan also argued that by law, the sheriff has the legal right to hire and fire deputies and part-time deputies.
Judge David A. Weinstein of the Albany County branch of the Court of Claims in New York denied Myers’ motion on Sept. 25, because “as a private citizen who does not show any special rights or interest in the matter in controversy, other than those common to all taxpayers and citizens [petitioner] has no standing to sue,” according to court documents. Myers appealed to the third appellate division.
In his response, Kaplan cited again Myers’ lack of an affidavit. Myers also did not attach the original order which he was seeking to reargue, Kaplan said.
A Motion to Renew did not include any new facts or change in law, Kaplan said.
“[State law] states in clear and concise language that a motion for leave to renew shall be based upon new facts not offered on the prior motion that would change the prior determination or shall demonstrate that there has been a change in law that would change the prior determination.”
Myers also realleged facts similar or identical to those in his original claim, Kaplan said.
In his Nov. 18 decision, Weinstein again denied Myers’ motion.
“Myers complains of several alleged injuries that he has incurred during various legal proceedings with the County Attorney’s office, including incomplete FOIL responses, the arrest for violation of an order of protection referenced above and allegedly working with the Greene County Department of Social Services in a manner that interfered with petitioner’s housing placement,” according to court documents. “Myers contends that he has incurred such injuries as part of some unexplained conspiracy involving the construction of a new Greene County Jail. Based on such alleged injuries, which bear no apparent relation to the hiring of Matthew Seeley, petitioner contends he has standing to sue for the alleged violation of the county’s nepotism rules.”
Weinstein ruled Myers does not have a standing in the case.
“Myers’ claim that Mr. Seeley’s hiring was a violation of the county’s anti-nepotism regulations — even if true — is nothing more than a harm suffered generally by the residents of Greene County at large and not unique to Myers,” according to court documents. “Myers does not have standing to challenge county hiring practices that do not directly affect him.”
Weinstein warned Myers about future filings.
“Petitioner is cautioned that further frivolous filings in this case will result in the imposition of sanctions,” Weinstein said.