Harrietstown town clerk Patricia Gillmett, center, at a recent meeting of the town board.
Members of the Harrietstown Town Board recently reacted to an accusation in the media that the town had covered up a post-executive session vote regarding a sexual harassment case against the town supervisor.
“There has been no cover-up by Town Clerk Patricia Gillmett,” Councilman Ron Keough said at the board’s March 22 regular meeting. “As a member of the Harrietstown Town Board for nearly 30 years ... I have found her responsible, dedicated, honest and astute about her duties as town clerk.”
On March 12, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise ran an editorial criticizing the Harrietstown Town Board “for effectively covering up what may or may not have been a minor scandal.”
The town's insurance company decided to pay former bookkeeper Brenda LaPierre $30,000 to settle a lawsuit claiming that Supervisor Larry Miller had sexually harassed her at work.
“We don't presume he's guilty, but it's worrisome that the council's vote to approve the settlement did not make it to the meeting minutes initially or when the board approved the minutes two weeks later,” the Enterprise wrote. “Minutes of that vote only appeared recently, after the Enterprise asserted the Freedom of Information Law.”
While the Enterprise editorial did not blame Gillmett by name, it is the town clerk’s job to manage the meeting minutes. Prior to a March 6 report, the Enterprise asked Gillmett for the minutes of the Dec. 30 meeting and received a one-page document that did not include the board’s action after the executive session regarding a vote on the sexual harassment settlement. A second page with the information was accidentally not included in the packet, and the Enterprise did not find out about the second page until last week.
In the meantime, on March 14, the Enterprise retracted some of its March 12 editorial with another editorial titled “We went too far.”
“We apologize for the harm we did to town councilmen's reputations,” the Enterprise wrote. “It seemed right at the time that the board as a whole was responsible for a lack of transparency, but in hindsight, we were in no position to make such a judgment.”
Councilman Bob Bevilacqua said he looked into the situation once he heard about the “missing” minutes.
“When I came down that day to ask Patty a question about that, she went to the minute book,” Bevilacqua said. “The minutes that were alleged to be missing were in there. I went back and got my marked-up copy of my agenda packet for the Jan. 12 minutes, and it’s clear right there that the special meeting of Dec. 30, the minutes of the meeting were in there ... Nothing was done wrong.”
Keough said that Gillmett may have missed providing a second page of the minutes, but he doesn’t believe she did it intentionally.
“Shame on us for assuming that the media was right when they reported it, and shame on the media for not checking a little further to make sure that they reported correctly,” Bevilacqua said.
Enterprise Managing Editor Peter Crowley said March 27 that reporter Chris Knight double and triple checked with Gillmett to make sure the board’s Dec. 30 actions were in the minutes.
“After all that, we had all the reason to believe that the minutes weren’t there,” Crowley said. “But the facts were different than what we thought. The minutes were there.”
Keough said lessons have been learned as a result of this controversy, both by the town and the media.
“Sometimes there’s just a little more you can do,” Crowley said.