ANCRAM—The town’s new Committee for Respectful Behavior is not yet formed, but if it were, it would already have its first complaint to deal with.
At the June 16 Town Board meeting, it was announced that the board would later go into executive session (closed to the public) to discuss a new harassment complaint.
Supervisor Art Bassin said four candidates have thus far applied to serve on the Committee for Respectful Behavior (CRB). But the board wants a five- to seven-member committee, so Mr. Bassin suggested that the application period be extended until the board’s July 21 meeting in hopes of hearing from more candidates.
The board voted to form a CRB in May.
The matter of disrespectful behavior initially came to light back in January, when Jack Lindsey, resident and Town Ethics Board chair, addressed the board about numerous incidents of “dismissive, sometimes hostile or inappropriate treatment of women who serve the town or come to the Town Hall for constituent services…”
An investigation into the claims ensued, with the Town Board enlisting the services of Attorney Elena DeFio Kean with the Hinman Straub law firm in Albany to look into the matter. Ms. Kean started her investigation February 12 and concluded it with the submission of her findings report April 21. She interviewed 20 people—all were town employees, elected officials or volunteers on one or more town committees.
Ms. Kean’s 13-page report revealed “no violation of law or ethics,” but did find that Mr. Lindsey’s January statement “did accurately convey the feelings and sentiments of multiple females [who] provide services to the Town of Ancram.” The individuals’ feelings of being dismissed or treated disrespectfully “are genuine and sincere.”
Also in May, Councilwoman Bonnie Hundt presented to the board a Draft Respectful Workplace Policy (Code of Conduct) and a statement of qualifications for someone serving on the CRB. She and Councilwoman Amy Gold along with an ad hoc committee worked on the documents. At that meeting, Ms. Hundt said the Code of Conduct should be added to the town’s employee handbook and the CRB should serve to hear and look into complaints about disrespectful behavior without the need to “spend any more money on attorneys.”
At the June meeting, Mr. Bassin said he and Councilman Hugh Clark had been working on “edits” to the documents.
‘What’s the matter with interviewing in public?’
Councilman Hugh Clark
Town of Ancram
He asked the board if the draft policy should be shared with applicants to the CRB. Ms. Hundt said she thought that was “premature.” Other board members said the draft could be shared, but that it should be made known that it would be edited.
Ms. Hundt asked if committee applicants would be interviewed by the board in executive session. The idea of interviewing applicants as a group or one at a time was also discussed. Councilman David Boice said he thought the board should be together during interviews. Mr. Bassin said that if three or more board members were together, he was advised by the attorney—it would be a public meeting. It was suggested that two board members at a time could interview candidates, perhaps in separate rooms at Town Hall.
Mr. Clark asked, “What’s the matter with interviewing in public?”
Ms. Hundt said personnel matters should be handled in executive session and said she thought a candidate might be “intimidated” by facing the entire board.
She said the board should develop a list of questions for consistency. Mr. Boice suggested the interviews be recorded so other town board members can hear them.
Mr. Bassin said that at the next meeting when the board has a complete list of applicants, a schedule for interviews could be set.
Ms. Hundt said the people who have applied so far “are great candidates.”
Following the meeting, Supervisor Bassin issued a townwide email extending the application deadline to July 21.
The email said, the Town Board seeks Ancram residents to serve on a newly-created Committee for Respectful Behavior whose responsibilities will include recommending to the Town Board:
*A Code of Conduct for Town of Ancram elected and appointed officials, employees, volunteers, and residents to guide respectful behavior in all town activities
*A process and procedure to report, receive and investigate complaints from individuals who perceive they have been treated with disrespect in violation of the Code of Conduct by a town official, employee, volunteer, or resident who is participating in a public town event
*A process and procedure to report the results of the investigation, recommendation and subsequent action, if any, to the complainant, Town Board and other affected parties
*The content, timing, and audience for a series of training programs that introduce the new Town Code of Conduct and which focus on verbal and nonverbal communications (including examples of disrespectful behavior) to supplement the mandatory annual NYS Harassment Training; and
*Any other programs, processes or actions that the CRB believes will contribute to the development of a culture of respectful behavior in the Town of Ancram.
Applicants should submit a letter of interest outlining qualifications and experiences relevant to the Committee’s responsibilities to Town Supervisor Bassin via email at or by mail to Town Supervisor, 1416 County Route 7, Ancram 12502.
Town resident Terry Boyles addressed the board about disrespectful behavior near the end of the meeting, asking why the board was going to the trouble of creating a CRB?
He said if there is disrespectful behavior going on a meeting it is the responsibility of the chairperson to deal with it.
“A chairman should control their meeting. I don’t understand the controversy,” he said.
Ms. Hundt noted that “it has not always been happening that way. It is not always happening at a meeting.”
Mr. Boyles went on to say that if the town had given town taxpayers a $16,000 tax break (the amount spent on a lawyer) “that would help out quite a bit.”
Supervisor Bassin then made a motion that the Town Board go into executive session to discuss attorney guidance with regard to a harassment complaint.
In a phone call this week, after the meeting, Mr. Bassin told The Columbia Paper the board had taken no action following executive session. He also said he would not give any further information about the harassment complaint.