County says two Knox workers should not have been fired

Enterprise file photo — H. Rose Schneider

Transfer station worker Jeremy Springer speaks with Highway Superintendent Gary Salisbury this winter. 

KNOX — The Albany County Civil Service Department has stated that two of the three Knox transfer station workers who were fired in a split vote by the town board on New Year’s Day were wrongfully terminated.

On March 15, John Marsolais, the department’s director, said in a letter to the town supervisor that, in the department’s opinion, former town workers Richard Dexter and Joseph Adriance were terminated in violation of the state’s Civil Service Law.

The letter was sent to The Enterprise from the county on Tuesday afternoon in response to questions about the decision.

The New York State Civil Service Law, Section 75 states that certain employees in the Civil Service system are protected from dismissal or disciplinary action before undergoing the proper procedures. Initially, the law did not apply to those classified as labor, but, as The Enterprise reported on Jan. 9, an amendment, which went into effect on Sept. 7, 2018, now allows employees classified as labor who have worked for over five years at their jobs to be protected under Section 75.

Adriance said he had worked for five-and-a-half years at the transfer station, and Dexter has worked there for 16 years. The third fired worker, Mark Young, had worked for the town for only three years, and the Civil Service Department determined he would not be protected under the law.

Young told The Enterprise on Tuesday that he has decided to seek other employment, saying he is fairly certain he will not be able to get his Knox job back. But he said he was sure that Dexter and Adriance’s claim to their jobs would hold up in court. Dexter declined to comment, deferring to Adriance, who did not return a call for comment before press time.

On Jan. 1, at the town board’s reorganizational meeting, a vote to appoint three new transfer station attendants — Jeremy Springer, Lee Harnett, and Glen Walsh — passed, 3 to 2, with councilmen Dennis Barber and Earl Barcomb, incumbent Democrats, voting against it. Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis and his two running mates on the GOP line in 2017, councilmen Karl Pritchard and Kenneth Saddlemire, voted in favor of the new appointees. Lefkaditis did not respond to emailed questions before press time.

Residents at the Knox Town Board meeting the week after the firings raised concerns about the workers, whom many said they knew from coming to the transfer station, being fired with little explanation. Several residents who had read the Enterprise story on the firings questioned the board’s decision to violate Civil Service rules.

“That’s up to a judge to adjudicate, not us,” said Lefkaditis.

Residents who returned for the following monthly meeting again asked why the three workers were replaced. At that meeting, when asked by a resident if the decision could be reversed, Lefkaditis said that said that the new workers would not be fired, but said that technically the former workers could be hired if the town wanted to hire additional workers to the three.

Letters and emails from a Freedom of Information Law request made by The Enterprise revealed that the county department of Civil Service had begun investigating the firings in January after being alerted to the amendment when The Enterprise contacted the department in January; an email states the department was not informed of the law’s change by the state.

The county department initially issued an opinion at the end of January, stating that Adriance and Dexter were wrongfully terminated but retracted it after receiving more information from the town.

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