Source reveals charges against county official

Sarah Eames | The Daily StarDana Scuderi-Hunter, commissioner of the Delaware County Department of Social Services, speaks Wednesday with Ron Dunn, the attorney representing her in a disciplinary hearing, following the sixth day of testimony at the Delaware County Public Safety Building in Delhi.

DELHI — In a series of seven disciplinary charges filed against social services commissioner Dana Scuderi-Hunter, Delaware County alleges she is guilty of insubordination, misconduct, mismanagement, making false statements to her employer, breaching her duty of loyalty and engaging in conduct unbecoming of an employee of Delaware County.

Specific allegations outlined in a redacted copy of the statement of charges obtained Wednesday by The Daily Star covered several items of testimony given throughout the first six days of proceedings, including Scuderi-Hunter’s treatment of subordinate employees, relationships with other county department heads, conflicts with the current and former county attorneys and her involvement with several youths in her custody as commissioner. 

The county had previously declined to explain to The Daily Star what the charges against Scuderi-Hunter were, and blocked a Freedom of Information Law request to reveal the charges.

Despite the repeated objections of prosecutor Frank Miller, defense attorney Ronald Dunn elicited testimony regarding Scuderi-Hunter’s management style from several employees of the social services department Wednesday during the sixth day of proceedings.

“I don’t want to give cumulative testimony, but I also don’t want to be faced with that this is just one employee’s opinion,” Dunn said. “I want to put on as many employees as possible to talk about that, until everybody’s sick of hearing it, and I think I have the right to do that.”

“You don’t want to make the hearing officer sick of hearing it,” said Alfred Riccio, the hearing officer appointed by the county to preside over the matter.

“Actually, I do,” Dunn replied.

Suzanne Marsico, a principle program specialist with the department, said that in staff meetings and in daily interactions, “I’ve never known (Scuderi-Hunter) to be disrespectful.”

“I don’t hesitate to go into her office if I need something,” she said. “She knows how to listen and she knows how to listen well,” adding that former clients often come into the office and ask the commissioner for assistance.

Miller also objected to Dunn calling to the stand Charles Piper, county director of veterans services, claiming he was effectively a character witness.

“The charges are quite broad — that Dana creates friction by treating department heads generally with disrespect,” Dunn argued, noting that the allegations are repeated in “every single charge.”

Piper, who also sits on the county social services committee, testified that differences of opinion among committee members are typically settled by a vote.

“Dana goes out of her way to find out where’s the issue,” he said. “She wants all of us to agree.”

Piper testified that Scuderi-Hunter was directed by the committee to personally search for a space that could house a child advocacy center, adding perspective to previous testimony by Amanda Walsh, county director of public health, who depicted Scuderi-Hunter as hostile and assuming when she visited her office to inspect the space.

Lisa Bezwersky, program specialist and appointed note-taker at meetings of the social services committee, corroborated Piper’s testimony that Scuderi-Hunter was instructed by the committee to identify a proposed space for the child advocacy center.

CHILD ADVOCACY CENTER

When Shelly Bartow, executive director of nonprofit community action agency Delaware Opportunities, took the stand, Dunn was instructed to limit his questions to the scope of her knowledge of the child advocacy center and foster care, one of many services she said the agency is contracted to provide the county.

Noting that the child advocacy center was a point of contention among supervisors at a May county board meeting, Dunn asked Bartow how Scuderi-Hunter presented herself when campaigning the county to accept state funds for the mobile unit.

“Very calmly,” Bartow answered. “She fielded many questions, and I did not see her lose her cool. What I saw was her being receptive — I saw her be willing to listen to those concerns.”

DISPUTED PHONE CALL

Roberta Burgin, a senior program specialist and 33-year employee of the social services department was asked to recall a phone conversation with Linda Pinner, the county personnel officer, that transpired about two weeks after Scuderi-Hunter was placed on paid leave.

Burgin said Pinner asked her if she recalled telling William Moon, Scuderi-Hunter’s predecessor as social services commissioner, that she was directed by Scuderi-Hunter to falsify foster care records. The conversation — which would have taken place at a colleague’s retirement party five years prior, according to Pinner — never happened, Burgin said.

Burgin said Pinner seemed to accept her answer and ended the conversation by telling her “this is confidential, just between you and I.”

About an hour later, Burgin said, she received a phone call from Moon.

“He said ‘I believe you know why I’m calling,’” she testified. “And I said ‘why don’t you enlighten me?’”

When Burgin testified that Moon told her he was being retained by the county attorney’s office to investigate and “dethrone” Scuderi-Hunter, Miller objected, calling the testimony “triple hearsay” and “absolutely improper” and claiming that Burgin’s statements were irrelevant to the charges.

“Every investigation has parts that don’t materialize into anything,” Miller said. “This is not unusual to pursue a lead. The idea that this is being testified to is prejudicial to the interests of the county in this matter, because these are allegations that we can’t refute. We don’t know what was said.”

Though Riccio sustained the objection and directed Dunn to move on with his questioning, Burgin affirmed her statements in an interview outside the hearing room.

“I thought I was being accused,” Burgin said of Pinner’s inquiry about the conversation with Moon, but the county personnel officer assured her she was not.

Though Moon never explicitly discussed with Burgin his apparent recollection of their conversation five years prior, she said he told her he remembered the conversation “very strongly, because it’s emblazoned in my brain.”

“Well, it’s not in my brain, and I would remember if a conversation like this took place,” Burgin said she told Moon. “His last words to me were ‘well, if you happen to have a recollection of memory, call me back.’”

TESTIMONY CHALLENGED

Miller motioned to strike the testimony of Johanna Bogoni, a senior caseworker with the social services department, after she spent nearly two hours on the stand.

Bogoni testified that she observed a counseling memorandum in the personnel file of Angela Barnes, a former caseworker with the department who reported directly to her, contradicting Barnes’ previous claims that she had not received formal notice of counseling sessions with her supervisors regarding her job performance, which were also outlined in the charges. 

When Bogoni said she requested to review the memorandum last week in preparation for her testimony, Miller asked her how she knew in advance that she would offer testimony on Barnes specifically.

Bogoni responded that Dunn informed her in a phone conversation no more than 45 minutes long, which Miller alleged was improper, citing a previous ruling by the New York State Supreme Court.

Riccio ordered both attorneys to submit legal arguments defending their respective positions on the matter within one week, moving to reserve his judgement until the hearing resumes Oct. 21.

Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at seames@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.

Recommended for you