Former DPW head settles lawsuit

GLOVERSVILLE – A former Department of Public Works director has agreed to settle a lawsuit he filed against the city, two years after his tenure was cut short because he lacked the required qualifications.

Heath Hardman, who served in the position from March to July 2011, accepted a $5,500 payment to settle the lawsuit, City Attorney Anthony Casale said Wednesday. Hardman confirmed the settlement amount. A stipulation of discontinuance was filed in state Supreme Court in Johnstown earlier this summer.

While its insurance coverage included lawsuits, the city was responsible for paying the $5,500 because the settlement amount was less than the policy’s $10,000 deductible, Casale said. The city made no admission of guilt or liability, he said.

“This was a situation where we could have spent a lot more money in court and won, but at the end of the day, the city didn’t want to spend more money than we had to,” Mayor Dayton King said Wednesday.

Hardman was appointed by King and approved by a divided Common Council in March 2011, despite Hardman’s lack of relevant supervisory experience and absence of an engineering degree or significant construction experience, which were required under state Civil Service law. According to the lawsuit, he was terminated from his $55,000-a-year job four months later, when the Civil Service Office told the city Hardman didn’t meet the qualifications.

Hardman filed the lawsuit May 3, 2012, alleging negligence, breach of implied contract and violations of promissory estoppel, which prevents one party from breaking a promise made to another.

In addition to damages, Hardman was seeking $5,594, the amount he said he would have received by selling back unused paid days off – a benefit he said was afforded to him under Resolution 11-98, a part of the city charter that set personnel policies for nonunion employees. That resolution was replaced by a new policy approved by the council in October 2011.

King said since taking office, he outlined pay and benefits for department heads in mayoral directives – one-page documents signed by him and placed in an employee’s personnel file that were intended to supercede the resolution.

But Hardman said he received no signed copy, and the city was unable to produce a signed copy when he requested one under the Freedom of Information Law. The Leader-Herald also sought the document through a FOIL request but received only an unsigned, undated copy.

“That’s what made me sue – the mayor lied to me and I caught him,” said Hardman, now a third-year law student at Albany Law School and editor-in-chief of the Albany Government Law Review.

King and Hardman have different accounts of how his departure played out. In interviews and court documents, Hardman has said he learned he lost his job via a letter of termination from the Civil Service Office. But King said Wednesday that Hardman “could have used a military exemption and stayed in that position, but he decided not to, and he resigned.”

“Absolutely incorrect, 100 percent. I didn’t resign. I got a letter of termination,” said Hardman, who said he knew of no military exemption. He and King both said Hardman declined the city’s attempts to find ways to keep him as the DPW head while working around Civil Service law.

Gloversville used to have its own Civil Service office, but it closed about a decade ago amid budget cuts. King said in June 2011 city officials were looking into re-establishing that office, but it was not part of budget discussions in 2012 or this year. He said he may include it in the 2014 budget.

“Depending on what the price is, we might bring it back,” he said.

Hardman was the second former department head to sue the city in 2012 over benefits relating to Resolution 11-98. Former Transit Manager Al Schutz sought about $35,000 in overtime pay and other benefits under a lawsuit filed in state Supreme Court in Johnstown in February 2012. He settled less than three months later for $1,000.

Hardman was one of four DPW directors during King’s first term. He replaced Robert Abel, who retired in December 2010. Hardman’s successor, James Frank, was in the position three months before resigning. Kevin Jones, a city resident who was second-in-command in Johnstown’s DPW, has been in the job for 15 months.