A former town employee claims she was fired for speaking out against illegal budgeting practices.
Kathy Jones, former budget officer, has named the Town of Whitehall, Supervisor George Armstrong and Highway Superintendent Louis D. Pratt as defendants in a lawsuit filed last month in United States District Court for the Northern District of New York.
Jones alleges that Pratt and Armstrong conspired to remove her from her position after she accused the highway superintendent of operating a “slush fund.”
Jones served as budget officer, Supervisor’s clerk and highway superintendent clerk from 2010 through the beginning of this year when she was informed she would not be reappointed.
At the time, Armstrong said the decision had nothing to do with performance, but was instead a cost-cutting move.
“It had to do with budget concerns and my feeling she was overpaid,” Armstrong said.
According to Armstrong, after factoring in benefits, Jones’ total compensation would have been over $54,000, an amount he felt was exorbitant compared to what other communities were paying for the same position.
Instead, Armstrong appointed Joel Carpenter, who serves as budget officer for the towns of Granville and Hartford to the same position in Whitehall.
His total compensation, including pension contributions, is $26,400, about half that of Jones’. The town also realized an additional savings of approximately $15,000 for computer software that Jones had requested. The position of highway superintendent clerk remains vacant and those duties have since become the responsibility of the highway superintendent.
But Jones and her attorney, Ryan Finn of Hacker Murphy, LLP of Albany, refute Armstrong’s claim she was fired as a cost-cutting measure. Rather, they claim she was terminated for speaking up about illegal budgeting practices by the town.
They claim that Pratt intentionally overstated his estimated budget for labor costs and spent the surplus on equipment for the highway department.
Jones also claims that Pratt purchased equipment that was not approved in the budget and that Armstrong approved payment for those purchases.
When told he was not in compliance with the law, Pratt allegedly became angry with Jones and refused to change his budget, saying the money would be “taken away” because the town was cutting back on expenditures.
Jones spoke with Armstrong about the budget practices and he said he would look into the matter.
A few months later Jones was not reappointed as budget officer.
Jones also claims the town failed to properly compensate her for hours worked. According to the affidavit, Jones routinely worked in excess of seven hours per day but was not compensated for her time, thus being deprived of five hours per week from 2010-2012.
She also claims she was deprived of 1.5 hours of overtime pay per day in 2010; two hours of overtime per day in 2011; and one hour of overtime pay per day in 2012.
Jones also alleges not to have received a lunch break as required by New York State law.
Armstrong, however, claims that Jones, as an exempt salaried employee, was not eligible for overtime pay.
“If she had a document showing she worked overtime, she never showed it to me and as far as I’m concerned, as an exempt employee, you do the job until it’s done,” he said.
According to an “acknowledgement of Pay Rate and Payday” form dated June 29, 2011, Jones entered “n/a” for not applicable under overtime pay rate.
An initial court hearing was scheduled for Oct. 23, but Armstrong said the town’s attorney, Christian Morris, was expected to file an extension.
Because the town is covered by New York Municipal Insurance Reciprocal, one of their attorneys is expected to represent the town during the lawsuit.
Jones is seeking damages, punitive damages, attorneys’ fees, and lost wages.