Following Niagara County's hiring of a new employee who settled a sexual harassment claim in 2009, the minority caucus will put forth a resolution that would bar the county from hiring people with track records of sexual abuse.
Legislature Minority Caucus Leader Dennis Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, said the resolution would require the county's Department of Human Resources to establish a policy preventing the county from hiring individuals who have been convicted of a sexual offense or those whose actions resulted in a successful lawsuit against a public entity or a monetary settlement paid with taxpayer dollars.
The resolution, authored by Legislator Anita Mullane, D-Lockport, would also require the county to implement mandatory annual sexual harassment training for "all supervisory and managerial personnel, department heads, direct appointees of the Legislature, and individuals that may have unsupervised, isolated contact with county residents."
"We’re in the era of ‘Me Too,’ and we have the county government hiring people whose past conduct, frankly, is appalling — conduct that they were forced to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit over,” Virtuoso said in a press release issued Thursday afternoon. “Just as important, though, we want to protect our taxpayers from being financially liable should their bad behavior repeat itself.”
Majority Caucus Leader Randy Bradt, R-North Tonawanda, said he has reservations about passing a "blanket law" and said the resolution is being reviewed by the county attorney's office. He also said the resolution is "most likely illegal," noting that the state has laws on the books that ban laws prohibiting people from seeking employment.
"Where would you draw the line?" Bradt asked. "(Virtuoso) wants to include non-criminal behavior as well. I'm not saying it's a bad resolution, I'm just saying there are issues I have with it and I would really need to hear from (Virtuoso) on the floor on his plans on how he thinks he's going to get this to pass the legal muster."
Virtuoso's resolution follows the hiring of Glenn Aronow to fill the county's senior employment and training coordinator position. Aronow was sued in April 2009 by a former state Senate Majority Office staff member who alleged that he sexually harassed her while they were both employed at the majority office in Buffalo.
The first complaints about Aronow’s behavior came in 2008, leading him to leave the majority office to take a job as director of governmental relations with Buffalo Niagara Partnership. He later became the director of community affairs under then-state Sen. George Maziarz, who fired him from the job in December 2011.
The sexual harassment case against Aronow was ultimately settled for $75,000, along with $15,000 in attorney fees.
"(Aronow) was a state employee who was sued by a fellow woman employee for sexual harassment, and the suit was settled and the taxpayers had to pay for it," Virtuoso said when asked what inspired the resolution. "He was also involved in some criminal activity with the Maziarz case ... and he was in a no-bid contract with OTB for like $70,000 a year and the FBI is investigating that now. And this is the kind of employee that we hire? I think not."
Virtuoso said that there were a number of candidates for the job, which is a civil service position. He found it "troubling" that the county would hire someone with Aronow's history when there were other options available.
He also said that the decision was opening the county up to potential lawsuits if Aronow were to repeat his past behavior. If any such lawsuits were filed, and if they were successful, it would be up to taxpayers to cover the costs incurred by the county.
"As a working woman, I was shocked,” Mullane said in the release, referring to Aronow's hiring. "We need to protect our county workers from predations. We need to protect the public when they visit county offices, too. This hire was an appalling decision by the Republican majority. It needs to never happen again."
Bradt declined to comment on the hiring of Aronow, citing legal obligations. He acknowledged that engaging in sexual harassment is a "very serious issue," but said the individual circumstances of each situation would need to be weighed.
Virtuoso noted that this isn't the first county hire in the past few weeks that has struck him as questionable, citing the appointment of Kevin Schuler, who was convicted of wire fraud as part of the Buffalo Billion case, as the county's Public Information Officer.
He also pointed to the hiring of Nicholas Robinson, an assistant city attorney in North Tonawanda, as the head of the county's Public Defenders office. He said Robinson only has five years of experience as an attorney and only a year and a half in the public defender's office.
The resolution will be on the agenda for the legislature's next meeting, which will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the county courthouse.