The Flower Hill village board has voted to admonish Trustee Kate Hirsch following an independent investigation into harassment complaints, but the trustee says the claims are “bogus” and that they were meant to impede her campaign for mayor.
A statement issued by the village said that the investigation, carried out by the law firm of Berkman, Henoch, Peterson, Peddy & Fenchel PC, involved two separate complaints of workplace harassment filed against Hirsch by village staff members following “an incident in Village Hall that took place in front of several staff members this past February and a second separate incident weeks later.”
The staff members who filed were not identified, but the village say that the incidents, which Hirsch herself referred to as “a 10 minute exchange at Village Hall” in a comment to Blank Slate Media, are “focused on violations of Title VII and the NYS Human Rights Law.”
The village also noted that the investigation was delayed by the COVID-19 shutdown.
On Tuesday night, the village board passed a resolution that not only admonished Hirsch for her statements to the staff but also required her to attend an anti-discrimination training class to be assigned by the village, which intends to review its discrimination and harassment policy and education programs for staff and village board members.
The resolution states that the investigation found that on Feb. 26, Hirsch allegedly referred to a village official “utilizing a term which was intended to ridicule and demean the employee, with all of these communications taking place in a central area within the Village Office in the presence of staff members.” Further, on the same day and “in the presence of a number of employees, upon observing ashes on the forehead of a village employee,” Hirsch allegedly “made a comment in a manner insulting and demeaning of religious faith, beliefs and practices,” among other items noted in the resolution.
“Although the behaviors of Trustee Hirsch were not found by the investigators to be sufficiently severe or pervasive to create actionable claims under Title VII or the New York State Human Rights Law the behaviors were nonetheless found to be inappropriate and unacceptable in the workplace,” the resolution stated.
In a statement on the decision, Mayor Brian Herrington, who is running against Hirsch for mayor, spoke on behalf of the Board of Trustees.
“I am saddened that … our Village Board had to take actions to reprimand a member of our Board of Trustees for inappropriate and offensive comments to our staff,” Herrington said. “After receiving the report by the independent investigators, it was clear that the statements and actions Trustee Hirsch was accused of did take place and that the behavior was inappropriate. Our staff and residents can be assured that our village has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to acts of bias, discrimination and harassment. We are truly sorry to anyone that has been offended by Trustee Hirsch’s comments and we will redouble our efforts to ensure this type of behavior does not have a home in Flower Hill.”
In an email sent to residents, Hirsch referred to the claims as “bogus,” stated that she “never harassed anyone,” and that the investigators had found that there were “no actionable claims” against her.
“I learned last night that the alleged complaint was filed against me immediately after I filed an ethics complaint with the village for election interference, that the alleged ‘harassment’ by me supposedly occurred during the 10 minutes I was in Village Hall to file my complaint, and that the complainant admitted that was the entire basis of her complaint,” Hirsch said.
“Not surprisingly, the Special Counsel found that there were no actionable claims against me. Despite this, the Board of Trustees voted to ‘admonish’ me, implying that there was a finding of ‘bias, discrimination, and harassment’ and sent out a press release to that effect within hours if not minutes of the meeting. As I noted, the Special Counsel made no such finding and found no basis for the complaints.”
In a comment to Blank Slate Media, Hirsch referred to the decision as part of a “smear campaign full of lies” by Herrington “in order to try to win this election.” She also said that the “politically motivated” investigation cost $25,000 and that the findings from the investigation said that there was “no harassment, bias, discrimination or any misconduct whatsoever.”
“That the Flower Hill Board stooped to ‘admonishing’ a fellow trustee in a blatant effort to hurt her campaign for mayor is a sad indictment on Brian Herrington’s character,” Hirsch said.
Hirsch also said that she challenged Herrington to a mayoral forum “like that being held in Manorhaven.”
“I also don’t want to let [Herrington] hide behind a ‘press release,’” Hirsch said. “It is imperative that Flower Hill residents have the opportunity to question Brian Herrington about his claims in this press release as well as other important issues, including the many large contributions his campaign has received from multiple [political action committees]. As donations are made in order to procure influence, if he wants to serve as Flower Hill mayor it is incumbent on Brian to be transparent and explain his relationships with these outside special interest groups.”
In a phone interview with Blank Slate Media, Herrington said he was “saddened” by the incidents.
“The report was clear that inappropriate behavior took place,” Herrington said “It was behavior that has no place in the workplace and it had to be addressed. I’m completely saddened by it. It’s very disappointing, no way in becoming mayor or being on the board do you ever want to deal with a situation like this and have the staff that are really shaken and disturbed by something that happens in the workplace. It’s never something you want to deal with. So we did not take these actions lightly. You know, the residents and the staff can be assured that as long as we are involved in the village we’re going to have a zero tolerance policy towards behavior like this and it doesn’t matter who it comes from, we’re going to take swift action to address it.”
The results of the investigation are the latest turn in a monthslong campaign following the rescheduling of the village elections, originally planned for the spring, to Sept. 15.
Herrington, who took office after the death of Mayor Robert McNamara in April, is running for mayor under the Flower Hill Party banner, with incumbents Deputy Mayor Randall Rosenbaum and Trustee Gary Lewandowski on his slate. McNamara, who was running for a trustee position under the same party at the time of his death, will remain on the ballot as per the rules of an executive order.
Under the Liberty Party banner, Hirsch, who has been a trustee for three years, is running for mayor, with residents Diane Turner, Jay Silverman and Jeffrey Greilsheimer rounding out her slate.
February saw Hirsch challenge the Flower Hill Party’s petition to have it thrown out, only for the Nassau County Board of Elections to rule in the party’s favor. Hirsch then filed an ethics complaint against Flower Hill’s chief election officer, village Administrator Ronnie Shatzkamer, alleging that she was assisting the Flower Hill Party in its campaign, with both Shatzkamer and Herrington denying the allegations. It was following this that the village announced that claims had been filed against Hirsch.
Flower Hill’s election will take place from noon to 9 p.m. on Sept. 15, with residents voting at Village Hall at 1 Bonnie Heights Road in Manhasset.