Current ethical concerns came to the Town of Hurley in recent months as a town employee went to town officials charging highway superintendent Mike Shultis with making an anti-Semitic remark in their presence at work in the Hurley highway department.
The victim of Shultis’ remark made a formal complaint to the town board on January 14 after a January 11 incident at the highway department. When the highway superintendent said he apologized and the person making the accusation said he hadn’t, then hired an attorney, the town board asked town attorney Michael Jankowski to interview both Shultis and the person charging him separately.
Jankowski recommended at Hurley’s February 18 meeting that even though Shultis is an elected official outside of the town board’s oversight, the board could reprimand him for “discriminatory remarks” against a town employee under his jurisdiction.
The town board sent Shultis a letter on February 20 in which they noted Jankowski’s determination that the highway superintendent had violated a section of the Town of Hurley Employee Handbook entitled “Fair Treatment” that prohibits “any form of discrimination, harassment or other offensive behavior targeted towards an individual based on race, religion, color, sex, age, national origin, marital status, pregnancy, veteran status, arrest/criminal record, disability, genetic predisposition or carrier status, sexual orientation, or any other reason.”
In the letter, town supervisor John Perry and all members of the town board requested that Shultis seek sensitivity training within 60 days of receipt of the letter, and supply a “full written apology” to the employee or face a request from the town board for his resignation.
The letter further noted that since Shultis was an elected official, any actions the town wanted to see happen, which they could demand on the part of employees, could only be requested. But the board went on to note that they hoped “that all employees, appointed personnel, and elected officials use this unfortunate situation as lesson that the Town of Hurley does not take any harassment or discrimination towards others lightly.”
The town has refused to identify the employee who filed charges against Shultis.
Shultis, who served a single term as town supervisor from 2006 through 2007, was elected to his position in 2017, and comes up for reelection this November along with supervisor Perry first elected in 2017, as well as councilpersons John Dittus, last elected in 2015, and recently appointed councilman Matthew La Clair.
Shultis said in a statement this week that his offending remarks came after a phone conversation he had with a highway department vendor that he followed with two statements: “I’m cheap when it comes to spending taxpayers money” and, later, “My mother always told me she gave me the Jewish name of Michael and that I’d be a good money manager.”
“I had heard this growing up from my mom a thousand times and frankly was proud of her statement,” Shultis said in an emailed statement and in person this week. “I had never given much thought to mom’s statement being anti semetic (sic) but in today’s world you clearly must take issues into consideration when making statements, especially regarding a protected class under the law.”
He went on to say he apologized to the offended party (who he named in his statements) in person, listened to “a brief discussion and history lesson regarding the persecution of Jews in mideval (sic) times,” and then heard from people in the community that what he’d said “is considered an unconscious bias.”
The victim of Shultis’ speech has said publicly that the highway superintendent’s verbal apology was never formally accepted and that, “then he said it again. In my entire life I have never had anyone speak to me like that.”
The highway superintendent has since said that he held a department training for all highway workers on March 12th which covered “workplace violence, sexual harassment, sensitivity, racial/gender/ethnic bias (using my issue as an example of how something innocently stated can be offensive to those around you) and unconscious bias.” He added that the training was provided by Ronni Travers of Public Sector HR Consultants LLC , who also wrote the town’s employee handbook.
Shultis and the entire highway department attended except the employee who had filed the charges, who Shultis would not allow to his department’s training session at a local hotel last week.
The town received a bill for $946.05 earlier this week for that session. This was despite the fact that the town had, last December, scheduled a meeting Wednesday afternoon, March 20, for its own harassment training for all town employees
Supervisor Perry said on Wednesday, March 20, that he and the town board had decided that day to not pay Shultis’ training bill since he’d gone about setting the session in a “backdoorish way.”
“Mike scheduled his own meeting even though we’d announced the March 20 training back in December,” Perry said. “He didn’t let any of his department attend [the town training] except for the person who filed the claim against him.”
The supervisor added that the behavior seemed to double down on at least the appearance of harassment, and that the board felt Shultis should pay the training bill himself.
He also noted that, according to the board’s February 20 letter to Shultis, the superintendent had until AFTER he’d completed sensitivity training to supply a written letter of apology.
“We meet next MoMarch 25,” Perry added. “We’ll see if he comes forward then.”
Shultis has said the whole thing is political in nature.
As for the written apology, Shultis wrote this week that, “I had already apologized the day of the incident” and noted that “the public Spector (sic) that Supervisor Perry has created is only to try and embarrass me publically and to boost his reelection chances…I’m Dem Cmte Chairman and Perry won by slimmest of margins last election.”
The highway superintendent, and new town supervisor Perry, have both indicated they will be running for reelection in November.
Mike Boms, the town board’s sole Democrat, said at a meeting in West Hurley Tuesday night that as far as he was concerned, “What happened isn’t political…it’s about morality, about ethics.” He added that being Jewish himself, he wouldn’t have been offended by Shultis’ statement but added that “anti-Semitism is more ignorance than hatred. The way you stop it is education. I’ve tried to explain that to him…”