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Harrietstown supervisor under pressure to quit

Three councilmen asked Miller to resign last year, after former bookkeeper’s allegation

March 17, 2012
By CHRIS KNIGHT - Senior Staff Writer (cknight@adirondackdailyenterprise.com) , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

SARANAC LAKE - Three members of the Harrietstown Town Council asked Supervisor Larry Miller to resign last June, less than three months after the town's former bookkeeper filed a complaint alleging Miller sexually harassed her.

And two of those councilmen who are still in office and who signed that letter - Bob Bevilacqua and Ron Keough - are standing behind their request to have Miller step down.

"I think, because he's lost his ability to lead, he should resign," Keough said Friday.

Article Photos

Larry Miller
(Enterprise file photo)

Miller said last week that he's considering resigning, but as of Friday he was still the town's supervisor.

The formal resignation request was made in a June 2011 letter to Miller from Bevilacqua, Keough and Jim Murnane. The Enterprise obtained a copy of the letter Friday after filing a Freedom of Information Law request with the town.

Several paragraphs at the beginning of the letter were redacted by town Attorney James Maher because he said the language falls under a confidentiality agreement that was part of a settlement the town's insurance company negotiated with Brenda LaPierre in December 2011. Maher also said some of the language he redacted would have constituted an "unwarranted invasion of personal privacy," an exemption to FOIL under the state Public Officers Law.

While sections of the letter have been omitted, its message is clear.

"We believe that your ability to govern effectively has been greatly diminished," the letter reads. "At this time we would like for you to consider making a public statement that you ... will step aside as supervisor, and hand over the day to day duties to your deputy, until such time as this matter is cleared up. Once this matter is done no matter which way it goes we request that you resign from the position of supervisor of the town of Harrietstown.

"This will allow you to stay in the employ of the town, still be covered by the town insurance and you will still be supervisor until the matter is over. You would however not attend meetings or do committee work, if you so choose you could return your pay for this period, but we are not requesting you do so.

"Larry this has not been easy for any of us. None of us want to be supervisor, we do however need to be able to look the town's employees, and the taxpayers in the eye and say that we did what we thought was right and that we have treated each of you fairly.

"We do feel that we are treating you fairly, we are giving you a chance to resign before further steps are taken."

Asked Friday if he still feels Miller should resign, Keough said yes. He also said he told Miller he should step down in a more recent private conversation.

"I think the town needs to be in a place to move forward and do town business," Keough said. "It's just been very difficult to work around this whole thing in the background."

Bevilacqua said he's the one who actually wrote the letter calling for Miller's resignation. Asked Friday if he stands by that nine-month-old request, Bevilacqua would only say, "I think the letter speaks for itself."

Murnane, who decided not to seek re-election to the board last year, was on vacation in California Friday and couldn't be reached for comment.

One signature is noticeably absent from the June 2011 letter, that of Councilman Barry DeFuria, the town's deputy supervisor. Both Keough and Bevilacqua said DeFuria was not approached or asked to sign it. They wouldn't say why. Miller and DeFuria are close personal friends, in addition to being colleagues on the town board.

DeFuria said Friday that he doesn't think Miller should resign, but admitted he doesn't know what he plans to do.

"I just think the guy has done a hell of a job for the town of Harrietstown," DeFuria said. "I know he's pretty well burned out, like all of us are. But I don't know what his intentions are."

But can Miller continue to effectively be supervisor, given what's happened?

"I don't know if they'll let him," DeFuria said. "When you let the personal stuff get in there, it makes it hard for a guy to do his job, when he might not get the help. Bob and Ron have their issues and whether or not they're going to be professional enough to put their personal feelings aside and act like professionals, I don't know. They've gotta look out for the best interests of the town."

Councilwoman Nichole Meyette, who just joined the board in January, said she wasn't comfortable answering any questions about the town's handling of the allegations against Miller because she wasn't involved in the matter and doesn't have enough information. She said she wasn't aware that Bevilacqua, Keough and Murnane had called for Miller's resignation until recently.

While Meyette declined to say directly whether Miller should resign, she said she's concerned about his "effectiveness and his credibility" and how that reflects on the rest of the board.

"I do not want to be part of a board that is not respected, not valued and not reputable based on this," Meyette said. "If it's going to affect the reputation and the effectiveness of the board, then I think the decision needs to be made what's best for the board and the town."

Miller wasn't in his office at the Harrietstown Town Hall Friday and didn't immediately return a message left at his home Friday afternoon. In a conversation with the Enterprise last week, he admitted he was considering resigning from the office he's held since 2001. Before 2001, Miller served as a town councilman for six years.

For now, town officials say Miller is continuing to go about the day-to-day business of being town supervisor. They also say they expect he will be there for a highly anticipated meeting on the future of the town-owned Adirondack Regional Airport in Lake Clear. That meeting is scheduled for 6:15 p.m. Wednesday in the town hall auditorium.

There's a chance Miller's status as supervisor could come up at the board's next regular meeting, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday. Keough said has asked Miller to put "issues that have been in the media" lately on the agenda.

The back story

So far, Miller has refused to answer any questions about the complaint or the settlement, or say anything to confirm or deny the sexual harassment allegations, citing the confidentiality clause of the agreement.

On March 24, 2011 - roughly two months before Bevilacqua, Keough and Murnane called for Miller's resignation - LaPierre filed a complaint against Miller with the state Division of Human Rights that accused him of sexually harassing her on the job. LaPierre had worked for the town for 12 years until January 2011, when the board eliminated her bookkeeper position.

The Division of Human Rights never held a hearing on her complaint and dismissed it for "administrative convenience" in August 2011 because it said LaPierre planned to pursue the matter through litigation in federal court.

Before any lawsuit was filed, the town's insurance company reached a settlement with LaPierre. Selective Insurance of New York agreed to pay LaPierre and her attorney $30,000 in return for her signing waivers releasing the town, Miller and the other town board members at the time from any future claims or litigation. Bevilacqua and Murnane have said most members of the board wanted to fight the allegations, but they said the insurance company decided to settle, which it could do without the town board's consent.

After an executive session at a special town board meeting Dec. 30, the board voted unanimously to have Miller finalize the paperwork associated with the settlement agreement.

The Enterprise reported earlier this month that that vote was not recorded in the official minutes of the Dec. 30 meeting, based on documents the newspaper received from, and a conversation with, town Clerk Patricia Gillmett. However, the newspaper learned this week that Gillmett did receive, on Jan. 6, minutes taken after the executive session from Miller that reference the board's vote to approve the settlement. Gillmett said she mistakenly didn't include those minutes in response to an earlier Enterprise email and was mistaken when she initially said she hadn't received anything indicating the board took any action following the executive session.

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Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or cknight@adirondackdailyenterprise.com.

 
 

 

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