Building from a 15-year-old Albany County law, the Colonie Town Board unanimously approved the Town of Colonie Whistleblower Protection Law Thursday, Feb. 28.
The law is designed to encourage town employees and volunteers to report any wrongdoing, mismanagement, or waste the town may be engaged in, as well as to protect employees from repercussions. It allows town employees and volunteers to operate in an honest and transparent environment without fear, said officials.
In Albany County, whistleblower laws date back to 1992, when then-County Legislator, and current County Comptroller, Michael Conners supported the wmployee protection policy. The policy originally covered county employees only, but former Albany County Legislator Paul Collins later amended the law to allow the coverage of town and city employees.
According to Town of Colonie Attorney Mike Maggiulli, the town’s new law goes a bit further than Collins’ amendment. `We think it protects the town employees a little more: they can go right to the top,` he said, adding that the Colonie law specifically includes volunteers as well as employees.
`It reinforces [protection] in the mind of the town employees,` said Maggiulli.
Town Supervisor Paula Mahan, who supported the legislation from its onset, agrees with Maggiulli’s notion. `We wanted to bring it closer to our employees,` she said.
According to the new legislation, the Colonie Town Board is given the authority to enforce the law’s policies. Originally, the whistleblower law granted this power to the appointed three-member Board of Ethics. Though members of the Board of Ethics are appointed by the Town Board, Maggiulli notes that power of sanctions should remain in the hands of elected officials.
`The town board is the ultimate authority in the town. It would not be good to take that power away from the elected officials,` he said.
Mahan adds that the new law expands the role of the Board of Ethics by allowing it to work collaboratively with the Town Board to produce more accurate results.
The law comes in light of concerns regarding anonymous e-mails from 2003 to the town supervisor accusing the administration of mismanaging the town’s Department of Emergency Medical Services. The e-mailers, William Gardiner and Hugh Skerker, were identified when their ISP Time Warner Cable was subpoenaed to reveal their identities. Skerker in turn filed a lawsuit against the Town of Colonie and won a $225,000 settlement.
Town employees seem to be pleased with the progress that the new law will make.
`We received a lot of positive feedback on the whistleblower law. It’s a good tool to use to be sure that everyone is being treated fairly. They don’t have to fear any retaliation,` said Mahan.
`There have been some cases that have been concerns. It was evident that something needed to be put into place for employees and volunteers,` she said.“