DELMAR — Bethlehem Town Board members reached a rare stalemate while scrutinizing the appointment of an entry level position in its human resources department.
Of the board’s five members, three abstained from voting on Wednesday, Feb 11. The no-votes thus prevented the motion to hire Katelyn Berger as a personnel assistant from passing. Recent hirings have earned the board’s approval without cursory discussion, but this one prompted a half-hour discussion over ethics. Berger is also Town Board Member Jim Foster’s domestic partner.
Berger was selected from the county’s civil service list among a field of three candidates. Mary Tremblay-Glassman, the town’s human resources director, said her department had canvased qualified candidates based on the results of a 2019 exam. After interviews, Tremblay-Glassman said, she was the best fit.
The interview process did not reveal Berger’s relationship with the town board member. And, Tremblay-Glassman said, she was under no legal obligation to share the information.
Foster, however, disclosed Berger as his domestic partner to board members while agenda items were discussed the previous Friday. It was then he shared he would have to recuse himself from any debate and abstain from Wednesday night’s vote. Before that, neither Tremblay-Glassman nor Town Supervisor David VanLuven knew of her relationship with the board member.
Town Board Member Joyce Becker raised concerns over the appointment when she thought the Town was under a hiring freeze. Tremblay-Glassman said departments have been hiring to fill vacancies. Most recently, the police department has hired a secretary and a communications person. Both were approved by the board. Nonetheless, Becker abstained, suggesting the Town reassess staffing needs as many employees now work from home.
Town Board Member Maurren Cunningham expressed varying concerns ranging from nepotism to security. Before the meeting, she said she raised a hypothetical question with VanLuven as to whether or not he would take issue with her sister taking the same job. She said he would have taken an issue, as it would be viewed more as a political move.
Cunningham’s sister is Albany County Legislator and Bethlehem Democratic Chairperson Joanne Cunningham.
Cunningham shared that she was still uneasy with the thought that someone related to a board member would have access to sensitive files. She, too, abstained.
Though it was clear the vote faced three abstentions, VanLuven and Town Board Member Dan Coffey voted yes to the appointment. The town supervisor shared that, outside of vetting department head candidates, he trusted the human resources department with the hiring process.
Board members agreed to revisit the vote in two week following further discussion over Cunningham and Becker’s issues.
This story was edited at 8:57 to correct two errors.