Harassment settlement reform stalls in Erie County Legislature

Republicans in the Erie County Legislature were dealt a blow Thursday morning. They are trying to pass a law that would ban the use of public money in harassment settlements.

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Republicans in the Erie County Legislature were dealt a blow Thursday morning. They are trying to pass a law that would ban the use of public money in harassment settlements. The Democratic majority in the Finance and Management Committee voted the measure down.

“To say that Erie County can just draft a policy saying we’re not going to use public money to settle claims is crazy. We don’t do that,” said legislature chairman Peter Savage.

The committee also voted to put off a decision on legislation that would require the county attorney to write up a report detailing past harassment settlements.

“Are there settlements? Have there been payouts in the past? If there have been, let’s take a look,” said Legislator Lynne Dixon, who sponsored both pieces of legislation. “Let’s see where we as a county government made mistakes in the past.

Democrats countered against the resolutions by saying in some instances, a settlement may be the county’s best option. They did express a willingness to consider an amended resolution that would ban the use of public funds in settlements.

“I think we need to be mindful of the fact we have an obligation to the taxpayers to represent the taxpayer in a matter brought against the county,” Savage said. “That doesn’t mean we condone the underlying behavior that may have led to that litigation.”

The vote came just days after former Erie County Social Services Commissioner Al Dirschberger turned himself in to police in Albany. He has been indicted on rape and criminal sex act charges. He’s accused of forcing himself on a county employee last month.

“The position that Mr. Dirschberger was in, a commissioner of social services, by far and away the largest department in Erie County, that’s a problem,” said Dixon. “That’s something clearly we want to learn more about. But this has been an issue that has been raised over the course of the last few months.

Both of Dixon’s resolutions could come back up as early as next week. That’s when the committee is scheduled to meet again.

 

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