DELHI — The Delaware County Board of Supervisors voted Wednesday to formally serve charges against Dana Scuderi-Hunter, commissioner of social services.
Although Scuderi-Hunter was not directly named in the resolution, identified instead as “Employee No. 346,” multiple supervisors confirmed she is the respondent to the charges, which were not specified in the document.
Before the vote, Hamden Town Supervisor Wayne Marshfield made clear his opposition to the resolution.
“It’s time to put an end to the expenses, whether it’s attorney fees, stenographer fees or hearing officer fees,” he said. “Right now they’re on the backs of our taxpayers, and I’m not fond of that.”
“Depending on the outcome of this resolution, I think the appropriate committee needs to make a resolution for reinstatement,” he continued, noting that Scuderi-Hunter’s term of office is set to expire at the end of the year.
The resolution passed by a measure of 3,578 weighted votes to 1,089, with Wayland Gladstone, Andes town supervisor; Thomas Hynes, Roxbury town supervisor; Eugene Pigford, Sidney town supervisor, and Marshfield voting in opposition.
Jeffrey Taggart, Franklin town supervisor and member of the social services committee, hesitated before voting in favor of the suspension, saying after the meeting that it was a “tough decision;” likely one of the most difficult of his career.
“We’ve got to get through it,” he said.
When the news of Scuderi-Hunter’s suspension broke last month, Marshfield, chair of the social services committee, said its members were “solidly behind her.”
Scuderi-Hunter’s annual salary was unanimously approved by the board in May at $96,254. She told The Daily Star on Tuesday she has continued to receive regular pay since her initial suspension, and that the majority of it is used to cover her legal expenses.
Scuderi-Hunter confirmed she was presented with a statement of charges on Aug. 16, to which her attorney, Ronald Dunn of Gleason, Dunn, Walsh & O’Shea of Albany, responded on Aug. 26.
“It appears that the centerpiece of the charges is what happened in court that day,” she said, referencing her actions in an undated family court case concerning a youth who was in her custody as commissioner at the time.
The incident sparked the ire of County Attorney Amy Merklen, who was also involved in the case and in June sent Scuderi-Hunter at least three separate letters criticizing her recommendation to place the youth in an inpatient treatment and rehabilitation program in lieu of incarceration.
Scuderi-Hunter defended her actions in a June 20 letter to members of the social services committee.
“As Commissioner I have the statutory, moral and ethical responsibility to advocate for what I determine to be the best interests of a child in my custody,” she wrote, citing New York state Social Services Law, which defines the role and responsibilities of social services commissioner when a minor is placed in the custody of the commissioner.
“The County Attorney’s advocacy of continued incarceration of this youth also flies in the face of recently enacted Raise the Age legislation,” she continued.
Assistant County Attorney Jeremy Rase, who attended the meeting in Merklen’s absence, declined to comment on the charges.
Frank W. Miller, the attorney representing the county in the suspension proceedings, also declined to comment.
“I look forward to vindicating my good name and professional reputation in a public hearing,” Scuderi-Hunter said Wednesday. “Today, I stand by what I did. It was the correct and right thing to do.”
Scuderi-Hunter confirmed the hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 18 at 9:30 a.m. at the Sen. Charles D. Cook County Office Building, 111 Main St., Delhi.
Alfred T. Riccio, a lawyer practicing in Clifton Park, was appointed to serve as hearing officer at a daily rate of $750 per day plus expenses, and in accordance with the procedures of Civil Service Law section 75, is required to “prepare a record and render a report and recommendation to the Board of Supervisors in a timely manner,” according to the resolution.
The resolution also retroactively ratified and approved Scuderi-Hunter’s prior administrative leave, which went into effect July 9 at the directive of Tina Molé, Bovina town supervisor and chair of the board, according to Marshfield.
Under New York Civil Service Law, the power to suspend a civil servant resides with the governing officer or body — in this case, Molé as board chair, or the board itself.
Taggart said the resolution was a formality “acknowledging the fact that charges had been served.”
Though the meeting was still in session, the room emptied considerably after Scuderi-Hunter’s suspension was ratified as employees of the social services department — the office for which is located one floor above the Board of Supervisors room — left visibly disappointed.
“We want Dana back. She’s an excellent commissioner,” said Lisa Peaster, a 37-year employee of the department.
“Nobody has ever said why she was suspended,” said Doris Quinn, a 12-year employee of the department.
“We don’t know. We really don’t have any idea,” Peaster added.
Both said the majority of the department “stands with her,” in spite of what they described as disciplinary threats from Molé against speaking out on the matter.
Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at email@example.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.
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