Sheriff’s Office charges Hillsdale highway super with harassment
HILLSDALE–The Town Board has called for the immediate resignation of Town Highway Superintendent Richard H. Briggs. The board issued its call after Mr. Briggs was charged with second degree harassment, a violation, by Sheriff’s Office Senior Investigator William Foster and Deputy Jeffrey Hofstetter, August 13 at 3:04 p.m.
A complaint signed by a Hillsdale Highway Department employee was the basis for the charge, according to a press release from Columbia County Sheriff David Harrison, Jr.
Earl Redding, the town’s special counsel on labor matters, said Tuesday that Mr. Briggs had not personally responded to the resignation request, but Mr. Redding said Mr. Brigg’s attorney, Kim Berg of the Gould and Berg law firm in White Plains, had contacted him. Mr. Redding did not elaborate on that contact.
Mr. Briggs is an independently elected official of the town and cannot be fired or suspended from his job by the Town Board.
He remains on the job with pay, Hillsdale Town Supervisor Art Baer confirmed Wednesday morning.
An enrolled Democrat, Mr. Briggs was last elected to a four-year term in November 2007. He ran on the Democratic-Common Sense and Hillsdale First party lines against Republican John Dawson. Mr. Briggs had served as highway chief for three years at the time of that election and was a 20-year employee of the department, according to his election profile in The Independent, November 6, 2007.
The matter falls under state Public Officers Law Article 3/Section 36 regarding removal of town, village, improvement district or fire district officer by court.
“Any town, village, improvement district or fire district officer, except a justice of the peace, may be removed from office by the [state] supreme court for any misconduct, maladministration, malfeasance or malversation in office.” While harassment is not specifically listed as grounds for removal that section of the law says that an application for removal may be made by any citizen resident of the town, and the criminal complaint filed by the employee qualifies as that application.
Whether or not the complaint will result in Mr. Briggs’ removal from office is a determination to be made by a judge, said Mr. Redding.
The county District Attorney’s Office is prosecuting the case, according to Supervisor Baer. The town hired Mr. Redding on advice of Town Attorney Dick Alford to “make sure everything is done correctly and to protect the town,” said Mr. Baer, who noted that the town faces the possibility of a civil lawsuit and is working closely with its insurance carrier, as well.
Mr. Baer said the Town Board first became aware of the situation about three weeks ago, after receiving two unsolicited complaints about harassment and sexual harassment in the workplace from members of the town’s highway crew.
There are currently six crew members plus Mr. Briggs, said Mr. Baer, adding, one man is out on disability.
The board then requested that the Sheriff’s Office begin a public integrity investigation.
The signed employee complaint alleges that Mr. Briggs, “engaged in a course of conduct of a sexual nature and repeated acts [which] caused alarm or seriously annoyed” the employee.
The Town Board discussed the matter in executive session then “unanimously passed a vote of no confidence and a resolution” calling for Mr. Briggs to resign immediately.
“Given the severity, scope and documentation of these workplace complaints, the Town Board regrettably has no alternative…,”according to a brief statement issued by the board Friday afternoon.
Mr. Briggs, 41, of Holm Road, was issued an appearance ticket to return to Hillsdale Town Court Wednesday, August 18.
Town Justice Juliette Crill has already recused herself from hearing the case, and Justice Russ Immarigeon may do the same, meaning that the case will be moved to a different court.
Neither Mr. Briggs nor his attorney returned calls for comment by press deadline.