What may go down as one of the darker chapters in the long history of the sheriff’s department got even dimmer with news last week that settlement of a sexual harassment suit against the department may cost $365,000, not counting the county’s (outside) attorney fees. And that may only be a down payment.
The sordid allegations of cowboy corrections officers gone wild in the workplace need not be repeated here. Five female corrections officers sued in federal court. Named as defendants were former sheriff Richard Bockelmann, current sheriff Paul Van Blarcum and a former corrections officer.
Last year, a jury awarded one of the defendants $440,000 and her lawyer $469,000. The numbers were later knocked down on appeal to $80,000 and $285,000 respectively. Four more women have similar claims pending.
Under the heading of hey-it-could-have-been-a-lot-worse, Van Blarcum said all charges except allowing a hostile workplace were unproven. Including in those rejected judgments were $30,000 fines against the two sheriffs, presumably for failure to exercise proper supervision. “The buck stops here,” Van Blarcum said, “but I firmly believe we did nothing wrong and I look forward to the next trial, if it comes to that.”
In the wake of the scandal, Van Blarcum also said that policies and procedures have been updated.
The county, its taxpayers and the women involved have paid a high price for intolerable errors and omissions.
Kingstonians and Ulsterites have gotten themselves in quite a dither about a new medical office complex being built in across from Adams Fairacre Farms in the Town of Ulster. Some of them fear the new facility may cherry-pick doctors, patients and professional staff from the struggling city-based HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley.
But really, isn’t that what’s been happening to Kingston and just about every other small city for at least the last 50 years? Thirty years or so ago, Kingston’s commercial core went poof when they built all those malls in the Town of Ulster. There’s but one Kingston new-car dealer left in town, though you can still buy replacement parts at several establishments. Urban flight is forcing the closing of several Kingston elementary schools.
Ulster Town Supervisor Jim Quigley, himself a Kingston transplant, got some heat for the less than sympathetic remark that in a free-enterprise system, there are winners and losers. At least he didn’t gloat. Ulster stands to expand its tax base by some $50 million when the medical site is built. Not counting new pharmacies, Kingston hasn’t had $50 million in commercial development in the last decade.
People go where they go for price and for convenience. Ulster’s tax rate is lower than Kingston’s, though developers will pay similar rates in school and county taxes. Northern Dutchess Hospital, also in an expansion phase, is almost as close to the new medical center than either downtown Kingston hospital. Rhinebeck is also in a federal Medicare reimbursement zone that pays considerably higher rates than Ulster. Even with a new congressman representing both areas, there seems little chance (says the congressman) of that being equalized in the foreseeable future.