Whistleblower lawsuit against McCoy and other county officials settled for $95K 

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy addresses the press in June during a coronavirus briefing. McCoy was one of five parties named in a recently settled lawsuit brought last December by Keri Kresler, a former Albany County employee and Democratic Party ward leader who alleged that McCoy had punished her for not backing his preferred candidates. 

ALBANY COUNTY — A lawsuit filed against Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy by Keri Kresler, a former Albany County employee who alleged that McCoy retaliated against her for her private political advocacy and whose whistleblowing to then-County Comptroller Michael Conners resulted in her being fired, has been dismissed against four out of five named parties after a settlement agreement was reached. 

As part of the settlement, Kresler will receive $95,000, no admissions of liability will be made, and Kresler would no longer work for the county as of Sept. 3, 2020, according to Deputy Albany County Attorney John Liguori, who released a statement to The Enterprise through Mary Rozak, the county executive’s spokeswoman.

“This settlement is in the best interest of Albany County because it assures a guaranteed financial outcome,” Liguori said in his statement.

Neither Kresler nor the law firm representing her, Smith Hoke, immediately responded to Enterprise inquiries.

The original defendants in the suit, filed last December, were McCoy, Albany County Board of Elections County Democratic Commissioner Matthew Clyne, and Albany County Director of Human Resources Jennifer Clement, as well as the county itself and the county’s board of elections; the settlement dismisses all but Albany County from the lawsuit.  

Kresler alleged in her lawsuit that, when she was working simultaneously as a typist for what is now known as Albany County Recreation Department and serving as the Democratic Party’s 7th Ward leader in the city of Albany, she fell out of favor with McCoy for backing candidates he did not agree with, which resulted in her reassignment to another county department and a salary reduction.

Kresler was reassigned to the Albany County Department of Social Services in 2018, where she worked for three months as an Eligibility Examiner I at the same salary she had been receiving as a typist before she was told by Clement that her salary had been reduced by more than $6,000, the suit says. The suit further alleges that Clement told Kresler that if Kresler sought to join a union she would be fired from her position.

The suit claims that, while at the Department of Social Services, Kresler was subjected to sexual harassment by coworkers who, among other things, would talk openly about incestuous pornography and refer to Kresler with misogynistic slurs, which, combined with the stress from McCoy’s alleged retaliation, resulted in Kresler seeking Family and Medical Leave and later applying for a position within the county board of elections.

Kresler was hired at the board of elections in the summer of 2018 as an Elections Specialist, which resulted in a nearly $4,000 salary reduction, the suit says. It was in this position that Kresler first spoke with Conners, who approached her looking for information about county employees with “no-show” and “low-show” jobs, which she provided, the suit says.

Although Kresler was protected as a whistleblower, she had been identified by the media as Conners’s anonymous source in the summer of 2019, when she was still working for the county’s board of elections. 

The lawsuit states that Kresler successfully sought additional Family and Medical Leave as a result of the stress brought on by her publicized involvement with the former comptroller’s audit and that this absence was specifically cited by Clyne when he fired her from her position in September of 2019.


Subsequent report

Kresler’s collaboration with Conners resulted in a damning interim audit report released last December that detailed various means of payroll fraud, instances of campaign work done by county workers on county time and in county offices, along with audit obstruction and administrative shortcomings.

An expert report was also released by Berdon, LLP, an accounting firm hired by Conners.

The reports came out shortly before Conners, who did not seek re-election, left office. He was replaced on Jan. 1 by Rizzo who released the final audit report, which cut down the most serious of Conners’s claims while appearing to go out of its way to criticize the competency of those who contributed to the two December reports.

One such critique was focused on a misstated address found in the Berdon report. “Additionally,” a footnote from Rizzo’s report reads, “it should be noted that the time clock located at Lawson’s Lake was identified as 112 State Street, however the full data report label is ‘112 State Street Lawson’s Lake.’ Had the analysis expanded the column in the excel data reports this would have been correctly noted.”

Rizzo’s report did, however, suggest that the county attendance policy be updated by the Albany County Legislature to require that county departments “implement written procedures outlining the recording and documentation of time and attendance records in accordance with applicable civil service requirements and collective bargaining agreements.” 

The county legislature passed a bipartisan resolution on Sept. 14 that asks Rizzo and Human Resources Commissioner Clement to present a detailed list of amendments that can be made by the legislature that would address the issues identified by Rizzo in her final report.

But nearly all the legislature’s Democrats — who outnumber Republicans 30-to-9 — voted against a resolution that would have banned campaign work on county time. The resolution was not endorsed by the personnel committee, nor the audit and finance committee, to which it had been sent for review.

Democrat Chris Smith, who represents the 39th District in the Hilltowns, broke ranks and voted with the Republicans, bringing the tally to 29 to 10.

Neither Smith nor the heads of the reviewing committees could be reached for comment.

The resolution originally included many more items that would be subject to immediate disciplinary action in addition to campaign work, including the use of profane language, theft, unauthorized absences, and other standard rules.

The list, though, was sanded down in committee, according to Legislator Mark Grimm, a Republican who represents the 29th District and serves on both the audit and finance committee as well as the personnel committee.

“[Republicans] are standing up for effective, honest government and the Democrats are blocking it,” Grimm told The Enterprise last week. “That’s where we are right now.”

When asked what he believed the Democrats’ motivation was, Grimm said, “I don’t like to ascribe motivations … but what we’ve seen in politics — let’s put it this way — this is a Republican idea and that’s why they’re resistant to it.” 

Legislator Dustin Reidy, a Democrat who represents the 30th District in Guilderland and serves on the personnel committee, told The Enterprise that the resolution was redundant because any non-county work done on county time is banned in the county charter, as well as unclear because the resolution lacked a definition for “political campaign work.”

“There’s nothing that [the resolution’s] solving,” Reidy said. “ ... If you ask 39 legislators what defines campaign work you’d probably get 39 different answers.”

Reidy went on to say that an unclear law can cause problems through the array of interpretations allowed by the parameters of the law. “I think that’s why this resolution was voted down,” Reidy said.

Reidy explained that he and his colleagues hope to address the concerns raised in the final report as thoroughly as possible.

“I think, looking through Rizzo’s report,” Reidy said, “we want to make sure we are passing something in the legislature to improve both the timekeeping and the issues that were raised in the audit, [and] that we’re doing it wholly and making the right changes. I’m very interested to see what Clement and Comptroller Rizzo present to the legislature. I believe the entirety of the legislature if not the vast majority … agrees on that.”



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