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Johnsburg settles with convicted town employee; Hitchcock returns to work

Johnsburg settles with convicted town employee; Hitchcock returns to work

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JOHNSBURG — The Johnsburg highway employee who pleaded guilty to a felony crime last year has reached a nearly $53,000 settlement with the town to get his job back after being fired.

Daniel W. Hitchcock served 4 months in jail following his guilty pleas in March 2019 in Warren County Court to burglary and forcible touching. Hitchcock was charged for an incident on July 15, 2018, where he entered a rental home without permission and fondled a resident there as she slept.

Hitchcock was released from jail in June 2019.

Hitchcock’s father, former Johnsburg Highway Superintendent Daniel B. Hitchcock, said after the arrest that his son had been drinking before the incident.

He sought to have his son return to work at his motor equipment operator job and asked the Johnsburg Town Board to re-hire his son.

Only two members of the board, Laurie Arnheiter and Eugene Arsenault, voted to hire him back. Then-board member Peter Olesheski voted no and Supervisor Andrea Hogan and board member Arnold Stevens abstained.

However, the younger Hitchcock kept showing up for work for months — without getting paid.

He claimed that he was never fired by the town and filed a notice of claim in September 2019 seeking back wages. Settlement discussions began in December. Hitchcock filed a second notice of claim in March and in April, and the town reached a settlement with Hitchcock that agreed to pay him $28,245 for his back wages, according to a copy of the agreement, which was obtained by The Post-Star on Wednesday through a Freedom of Information Law request.

Hitchcock would have earned $34,829 if he had been working for the town from July 2019 through March 2020. However, $6,584 he earned working at an unspecified different job in January, February and March was deducted from that figure.

In addition, Hitchcock will be reimbursed $1,372 for out-of-pocket health care costs and receive $23,000 for attorney and other expenses, according to the settlement.

Hitchcock returned to work on April 7.

His attorney, Kevin Luibrand, said Hitchcock is an excellent employee who should never have been terminated.

There were two issues. One is the highway superintendent is an elected official who has independent authority over the Highway Department. The Town Board cannot decide to terminate an employee in that department, according to Luibrand.

Daniel B. Hitchcock declined to run for re-election to his post and instead unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Supervisor Andrea Hogan.

He said the second issue is the town erred when it used Hitchcock’s conviction as a reason to fire him.

“An employee cannot be terminated because they have a criminal conviction — unless the conviction interferes with or directly affects their job duties. Clearly, the equipment operator job of Dan Hitchcock is unaffected by a criminal conviction,” he said.

For example, Luibrand said a person convicted of stealing could be fired from a bookkeeping job.

Luibrand said the whole idea is to get people who have been convicted of crimes back to work.

Johnsburg Supervisor Andrea Hogan said she had no comment on why the town decided to settle the claim. As far as why Hitchcock should get his job back, she also said that it is illegal for the town to hold the criminal conviction against him.

The agreement contains the standard clause that neither party admits wrongdoing.

Hogan said the impact to the taxpayers will be relatively minimal. The money was already included in the highway funds.

“We had budgeted for him to be an employee in 2019 and that position was there,” she said.

In addition, she said the town’s liability insurance will reimburse the town for all but 25% of those salary costs and pay the remainder of the settlement costs.

Reach Michael Goot at 518-742-3320 or mgoot@poststar.com and follow his blog poststar.com/blogs/michael_goot/.

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