Cherry calls Health Dept. $ illegal


By David Avitabile

Schoharie County Treasurer Bill Cherry blasted county supervisors Friday, saying they approved two “illegal gifts of public funds” to two outgoing health department employees.
Mr. Cherry said county officials have agreed to a separation agreement with former county health director Kathleen Strack that would pay her over $100,000 though she had recently taken a similar position with Franklin County.
In addition, Mr. Cherry said he was told by county officials to make a payment of almost $8,000 to the former director of patient services last month for “self-authorized overtime.”
The separation agreement, Mr. Cherry said, would pay Ms. Strack her full salary, plus health insurance, through the end of this year and through October 27, 2011.
On Friday afternoon, he said he had contacted state attorney general and governor-elect Andrew Cuomo and state comptroller Thomas DiNapoli about the matters and to “reject what I consider to be an absolutely illegal and grossly inappropriate waste of taxpayer dollars.”
On Monday morning, county attorney Michael West said that county supervisors deliberated for a long time on both matters and both payments were legal.
If Mr. Cherry continues to reject the county and does not pay Ms. Strack, either Ms. Strack or the county may have to take legal action against Mr. Cherry to compel him to make that payment, Mr. West said.
In November, Mr. Cherry said he was informed that Ms. Strack had resigned and was told supervisors had agreed to pay her salary and family health insurance through next October.
He said he contacted Mr. West and “strenuously objected to what I consider to be an egregious example of an unconstitutional gift of public funds to a private individual.”
A week later, Mr. Cherry received the separation agreement which he says is in clear violation of the state constitution section that does not allow a county to give or loan any money to any individual.
“I can’t believe any sane person believes that this makes sense…
“We’re public employees. This is not Monopoly money, it’s real money. It’s the money of the Schoharie County taxpayers,” he said.
“There’s no logic to it.”
He said he will not issue any checks to Ms. Strack until there is a determination by the state.
County board Chairman Earl VanWormer said health insurance payments will not be part of the separation agreement since Ms. Strack has taken the Franklin County position.
Mr. West defended supervisors’ actions.
“They felt this was the right thing to do,” he said. “They put a lot of thought into it.”
“What they did was totally legal and actually the correct thing to do.”
The Board of Health and two attorneys were contacted before supervisors made their decisions, he said.
Mr. West noted that Ms. Strack’s contract runs through next October.
The settlement with Ms. Strack “allows us to move forward.”
The parting with Ms. Strack was mutual as the county had decided to go in a different direction with the health department, Mr. VanWormer said.
The county needed to settle the separation issue, he said.
“You can’t just kick somebody out the door.”
Both Ms. Strack and Ms. Williams “did a lot of good for this county,” Mr. West said.
The health department, he added, is being restructured since the home health agency has been sold which will lead to fewer nurses.
As for Ms. Williams, the payment has been made to her.
Ms. Williams, the mother of Cassandra Ethington, the county’s personnel officer, worked for the county for less than four months earlier this year and earned $17,876 during her employment.
Eight days after she left her county job, Mr. Cherry said, she submitted a claim for $7,499 for unpaid on-call and compensatory time.
Mr. Cherry said he contacted Ms. Strack about the claim and was ordered in November to make a payment of $7,999, $500 more than the original amount “which we already knew was fraudulent.”
He produced a payroll voucher and a claim from Ms. Williams that showed she was already paid for on call duty in March.
“This is black and white obvious duplicate billing,” he said. “The law is clear.”
He issued the check to Ms. Williams because Mr. West and the county board ordered it as part of a “general release.”
Mr. Cherry said, “I believe this payment was improper and constituted a gift of public funds.”
Mr. VanWormer said if Mr. Cherry had all the information, “you wonder why he issued the check.”