Gardner update: still waiting for decision

Gardner update: still waiting for decision
Erin Gardner (Source: WWNY)

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - Erin Gardner is still waiting to learn whether she’ll be fired or not.

Gardner has been suspended from her job as Parks and Recreation Superintendent for the last four and a half months, as the city tries to fire her for what city officials claim was misconduct and insubordination.

The next step in the case is a recommendation from a hearing officer, Tim Farley. City manager Ken Mix told 7 News Tuesday he does not know when Farley’s recommendation will be delivered to him.

One thing has changed: Farley now has a copy of the formerly secret report into the conduct of Rick Finn, who was city manager until he resigned in January.

Farley got a copy of the Finn report from Gardner’s lawyer, Ron Dunn. Dunn said Tuesday that the report - which the city released after 7 News sued - sheds light on the charges against Gardner and on the credibility of some of the witnesses against her.

Farley, in a letter to Dunn, said he will not “consider the report as it was not entered into evidence at the time of the hearing.” He also said he will not enter it into the record.

It’s something city attorney Robert Slye wanted. In an email to Farley, Slye wrote, “I absolutely object to your review” of the report.

Slye went on to argue the report “was found by Council to be without merit on the issue of whether Mr. Finn had created a hostile work environment, whether involving Ms. Gardner or otherwise.”

In fact, the council essentially disavowed its own report, a report which found “Ms. Gardner’s allegation that she has been confronted with a hostile work environment appears to have merit.”

It also concluded that, based on what Gardner and two other female city employees said, “Finn’s treatment of female employees interviewed reveals conduct towards female staff that is intimidating and offensive.”

Despite that, city officials have said Finn’s behavior did not meet the federal standard of creating a hostile work environment.

If all this is confusing to you, here are the basics you need to know to understand what’s happened so far:

- Gardner filed a complaint against Finn late last year. She said Finn created a “hostile work environment,” basically by disrespecting her over and over again, in front of other city employees.

- The city hired a company H.R. Consultants, to come in, do an investigation, write a report.

- The report was finished in January, but was a closely held secret.

- The city council met, decided there was no “hostile work environment,” but Finn resigned anyway.

- Gardner filed a complaint against the city with the state Division of Human Rights.

- At the end of May, the city moved to fire Gardner, suspending her without pay. The city claimed the way Gardner handled the Finn matter - talking to the media and to council members - was insubordinate, and amounted to misconduct.

- In June, a hearing into the charges against Gardner was held at city hall. Based on what he heard, the man who ran the hearing, Tim Farley, will make a recommendation about whether Gardner should be fired or not. It will be up to city manager Ken Mix to make the final decision.

- Also in June, Gardner was put back on the city payroll, though she’s still suspended.

- In August, ruling on a lawsuit started by 7 News, Judge James McClusky ordered the city to make public the Finn report.

- Last Saturday night, October 17, the city finally released the report, with the identities of many of the people involved blacked out.

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