Press-Republican

April 4, 2013

Lake Placid village clerk placed on leave

Village looks for replacement amid apparent legal slough

By KIM SMITH DEDAM
Press-Republican

---- — LAKE PLACID — The village clerk here has been released from her duties.

The step was taken by Mayor Craig Randall, and the village looks to replace Kathryn McKillip, who has held the job since July 2004.

McKillip is on paid administrative leave until a new person is appointed, according to Trustee Jason Leon.

Randall told the Village Board on Monday that it may take about six weeks before that can happen.

Wednesday, the mayor told the Press-Republican that the village has not resolved issues uncovered by a state audit relating to monies that the clerk might have received.

“The previous board had made it clear that I post the village clerk’s position. I wanted to try to clear the issue first,” Randall said.

“Here we come to the end of my first term as mayor, and it is still not resolved.”

HOLDOVER STATUS

There were not enough votes on the board for ratification of reappointment for McKillip, Randall said.

“There were two appointments required in our organizational meeting Monday night. Neither one of them, though for different reasons, received appointments. I had met with the clerk and indicated those circumstances (lack of votes for reappointment) to her and said we were going to post the position.”

The second appointment was for the position of village treasurer, a post held by Peggy Mousaw.

“That matter is still under discussion,” the mayor said. “She remains in a holdover position until we can get issues resolved there.”

McKillip had been in holdover status on the job for two years. 

Her employment contract was not renewed in April 2011, while attorneys for the village and McKillip were apparently working toward solving details of alleged overpayment for leave and extra hours worked.

The release from duties was made final last week.

“It came as quite a surprise, but please speak with my lawyer, Jim Brooks,” McKillip said when reached by phone Wednesday.

PAID LEAVE

“McKillip is on paid leave until the position is filled,” Leon said of the decision the mayor made before Easter.

“The mayor has contracted with Laurie Dudley, the town’s clerk, to take the minutes for the Village Board,” he said.

The town clerk holds an elected position; the Lake Placid village clerk is appointed.

Leon said Dudley is being paid $50 per hour to take meeting notes.

RESIDENCY ISSUES

Meantime, the Village Clerk’s Office is unoccupied as the Village Board sorts through residency law to see if it can open the job search beyond Lake Placid’s borders.

At the Village Board meeting Monday, Leon said they began to look at whether to amend the local residency law.

“That would open up territory from which the village hires personnel for all contractual department-head positions, including that of village clerk,” he said.

The discussion would be opened to public hearings if the board moves forward on such an amendment.

AUDIT CRITICISM

The decision to place McKillip on leave comes more than two years after payroll discrepancies were unearthed in a state audit but is apparently related to an unsolved dispute stemming from that report.

In December 2010, state auditors found inconsistencies in how village employees filed and were paid for vacation time, leave time, extra hours and unused days off.

The audit cited $111,058 in unauthorized payments for vacation and sick time to village employees, including seven department heads.

The audit found McKillip was paid $22,774 in unauthorized leave time.

CHANGES MADE

Randall took office the year before the audit and moved to secure and ratify a time-off policy for the village.

Leon said much of that work has been accomplished since.

“We’ve gone to great lengths to put internal controls and procedures into place for a large part of the problem,” the trustee said Wednesday.

“The employee policy manual was vague and not really uniform. We are getting there. It’s an ongoing process.”

NO CRIMINAL CHARGES

Discrepancies with McKillip’s pay drew further investigation from Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne, who was brought in as a special prosecutor to assess the case.

Champagne found no cause for criminal action.

In a letter sent to Randall in 2011, he wrote: “There exists no ability to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms. McKillip committed a crime at the time she secured the funds paid to her by the village over the years in question.

“I am satisfied that the past practices of the prior administrative staff of the village, as well as one mayor’s potential testimony — that she worked weekends, extra time, took very little vacation and that certain employees were told they could ‘cash in’ retirement time — makes this case not only near impossible to prosecute criminally but also somewhat problematic in a civil arena.

“Similarly, other village managerial staff has also indicated that they followed the same past practices when they requested and received additional compensation for their additional labors.”

NO WRITTEN POLICY

Champagne said the lack of policy and oversight trumped the investigation. 

“Had there been written policies of the village in force and effect at the time of the payments, my decision may very well be different. 

“Also, the poor judgment exercised by the village in having an employee (McKillip) function well beyond the scope of her original employment further complicates any chance at criminal prosecution.”

The village did not have a written policy for pay for extra duties when McKillip took over treasurer’s duties for a time before Peggy Mousaw was hired by Randall.

Randall did not reappoint McKillip to the village clerk’s job in April 2011, when her previous term ended, opting to keep her on board as lawyers discussed the overpayment dispute.

Champagne had urged that attorneys “promptly address and attempt to resolve any alleged overpayments of funds claims based on the state comptroller’s report.”

That legal discussion has not been made public but apparently has not found common ground or resolution.

Brian Kremer of the Albany firm Goldberger & Kremer is handling the legal review for the village. He was not available Wednesday for comment.

Brooks was in court Wednesday and could not be reached, either.

To date, no formal litigation has been filed with regard to the audit’s findings or McKillip’s employment status.

Email Kim Smith Dedam: kdedam@pressrepublican.com