County employees suspended after disrupting training

Jan. 30—Two Otsego County Department of Social Services employees served 15-day unpaid suspensions in December after they disrupted a mandatory safety training.

Pam Correale and Kathy Russell are social welfare examiners who have been employed by the county since 2002 and 2004, respectively.

According to personnel records obtained by The Daily Star through Freedom of Information Law requests, Otsego County EMS trainer Robert Santriano conducted an annual state-mandated training on the topics of workplace violence prevention and sexual harassment and discrimination on Oct. 25, 2023.

DSS received numerous complaints from employees who attended the training regarding Correale and Russell's "disruptive and distracting behavior," according to their notices of discipline from Dec. 8, 2023.

The complaints stated that Correale and Russell were speaking loudly to the people sitting next to them throughout the training.

The employees said that Correale's comments and distractions were disrespectful to Santriano and the other attendees, and contributed to a hostile feeling at the training.

In addition, employees said Russell made "rude comments" to Santriano, saying his voice was too loud and annoying and that it bothered her, which left the other attendees "shocked, embarrassed and disheartened."

Although some employees stated they didn't benefit from the training this year, none of the more than 50 employees who were in attendance were required to retake either training, county labor specialist Tim Moretti said.

Correale has been disciplined or counseled for misconduct in the workplace on several occasions since 2009, including using anti-Semitic and racist language for which she was suspended for 20 days without pay in February 2022.

Russell has one other suspension on her record. She served a 10-day unpaid suspension in September 2019 for bullying behavior toward co-workers and failing to be truthful during the investigation of the incident.

Otsego County DSS employs 18 full-time and two part-time social welfare examiners.

According to the county advertised job description, social welfare examiners work directly with applicants for DSS services by reviewing applications, interviewing applicants and determining financial eligibility for assistance. They also advise applicants about how the system works once their start receiving assistance.

DSS Commissioner Lisa Winne deferred comment to County Administrator Steve Wilson, who declined to comment Monday, Jan. 29, saying that the county does not comment on personnel matters.

Correale and Russell did not respond to requests via email for comment. The Civil Service Employees Association, the union that represents county employees, did not have a comment.