The city of Johnstown has created a new human resources officer position and plans to scrap the current system that tasks the treasurer with handling everything from health insurance matters to harassment complaints.
According to Mayor Amy Praught. The officer will also handle employee grievances, Praught said.
Funding for the job is in the 2022 budget since the city previously employed an internal control officer — a position not included in this year’s budget, Praught said. The enacted budget for 2022 includes $50,000 in human resources spending and no spending on an internal oversight officer, which was $91,800 in 2021, the budget says.
“The reason I was involved in creating this position is that one person, a treasurer, can’t be your IT guy, can’t be your HR manager, can’t be your internal control manager , can’t be your benefits manager, can’t be your affirmative action officer,” Praught said. “You can’t have that in an organization because that person burns out and things go between the cracks.”
Praught also said she doesn’t want politics to get into potentially personal issues.
“Human resources should never be mixed up with an elected official. The treasurer is an elected official. He shouldn’t be in charge of human resources for the municipality as far as I’m concerned,” Praught said. “The position of treasurer is very important and can be very overwhelming. You have to separate it. »
Things have certainly gotten personal for former assistant treasurer Victoria Nellis, who retired in September with her former boss, treasurer Mike Gifford. Nellis’ ongoing conflict with the city is a good example of what a full-time human resources professional would handle.
Nellis contends that multiple discriminatory harassment complaints filed with the city in the spring of 2021 were never properly resolved. A complaint, filed in March 2021, alleged that a police typist was paid for an hour of lunch while other city employees were not paid for lunch. Nellis said that after filing this complaint, the typist then took a photo of Nellis that made her feel uncomfortable, leading to an additional harassment complaint. This typist is no longer employed by the city.
Nellis shared documents related to the dispute with The Leader-Herald.
In response to Nellis’ complaint, City Attorney Michael Poulin wrote an email on March 19 to Nellis stating that he was told the photo issue had been referred to the county sheriff’s department. of Fulton.
“I was told the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department was called and investigated,” the email read. “I was told that no charges had been filed because she [police typist] claimed she never took a picture of you and there was no picture on her phone.
Poulin told the Leader-Herald he could not comment on issues involving staff.
Nellis’ subsequent request for records from the Sheriff’s Department regarding the alleged incident at City Hall yielded no results.
“I could find no report in which the Sheriff’s Office responded to or questioned anyone regarding an incident that occurred at the location and date noted above,” Deputy Kevin Lenahan of the office wrote. from Fulton County Sheriff to Nellis on March 29, 2021. .
On October 26, Treasurer Thomas Herr, then acting city treasurer who had intervened after Gifford left about three months before his scheduled retirement, deemed the matter resolved.
“After reviewing the findings of the independent investigation, I agree that no wrongdoing has been committed by the individuals named in your complaints and I find the allegations are found to be unfounded,” Herr wrote.
Nellis appealed Herr’s decision, but that appeal was closed by former mayor Vernon Jackson on December 7, 2021, in a letter saying he never heard from Nellis following a November 22, 2021 letter requesting follow-up discussion. Nellis said she was related to her family and Thanksgiving and didn’t have time to respond.
“It’s unresolved because I was never interviewed,” Nellis said. “Thomas Herr, as an affirmative action officer, he never called me to say ‘give me your side of the story’.”
Police Chief David Gilbo said he believed the issue had been properly addressed and could not comment further as it related to staff. But Gilbo said asking about the Nellis dispute opened up a “Pandora’s box.”
Praught hopes that having someone employed by the city whose primary job responsibilities include handling complaints like Nellis’ can prevent these kinds of issues from escalating in the future.
“The only thing I can’t stand is drama,” Praught said. “Leave him at the door.”
Nellis said she was “baffled” by the creation of a full-time human resources position when she said she and Gifford had largely been handling the duties for more than two decades.
“It gives them less work to do,” she said. “I do not understand [why this position is needed] when Mike and I were able to do all of this in that amount of time.
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.