State investigates if Ogdensburg lawmaker’s Facebook post was sexual harassment

Published: Dec. 2, 2021 at 5:01 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

OGDENSBURG, New York (WWNY) - Was an Ogdensburg lawmaker’s Facebook post sexual harassment? A state agency is investigating that.

It happened at the height of the battle over library funding.

Ogdensburg City Councillor Steve Fisher posted the following comment on Facebook about library executive director Penny Kerfien: “Penny she gotten a little bitchy. She’s only worried about herself. Even when we gave them money it was never enough I hope it’s voted down. It would reduce our tax cut of 10 percent to 5. Let’s not forget we pick board members. I won’t!”

It was the last word in the first sentence of Fisher’s comment that jumped out at Kerfien.

“I was kind of shocked,” she said. “That word is not a good word as far as I’m concerned. So, I was surprised it was put out there in public.”

It was in response to a post from the Friends of the Library urging people to vote “yes” on a $225,000 funding referendum.

Kerfien was also concerned about Fisher’s last words on picking board members – essentially Kerfien’s bosses. She took it as a threat.

“I think it added insult to the injury,” said Kerfien.

Fisher took the post down that same day. He later apologized to Kerfien.

But, the library board investigated. It recommended certain actions to the city. They included banning Fisher from discussing or voting on library funding as well as board appointments.

“Most of their demands were things the city could not entertain and certainly we couldn’t force Councilman Fisher or any councillor to entertain, which is ultimately to give up their right and their duty to vote on certain issues and abstain from things,” said Stephen Jellie, Ogdensburg city manager.

Jellie noted Fisher took the comment down and apologized. Jellie acknowledges the post was “insensitive.”

“But insensitive is a long way from sexual harassment,” he said.

When the city failed to act on the library board’s recommendations, Kerfien took matters into her own hands. In July, she filed her own complaint of sexual harassment and retaliation with the state’s Division of Human Rights.

Before the Division of Human Rights takes any action, Kerfien and the city could elect to settle this voluntarily. But right now, there seems to be little chance of that.

The city sent its response to the complaint to the Division of Human Rights in July. Since then, neither Kerfien nor the city has heard back.

Copyright 2021 WWNY. All rights reserved.