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Town of Hamburg terminated clerk in retaliation, court rules

Political retaliation is responsible for a court clerk losing her job in the Town of Hamburg, a state Supreme Court judge has ruled.

Justice Donna M. Siwek said there is no "credible evidence" that establishes Brigit Reynolds' job was terminated by the Town Board in January 2016 to save money. Reynolds, who was scheduled to make $42,491 as a senior clerk in 2016, contends that a councilman threatened her job when he came across her father distributing campaign literature for the councilman's opponent.

She is seeking her job back with back pay and full benefits.

Town Councilman Thomas Best Jr. denies he retaliated against Reynolds.

"I respectfully disagree with Judge Siwek," he said.

He said he did come across Reynold's father, Richard, in November 2015 when he was campaigning for his Town Board seat. He said Richard Reynolds was distributing campaign literature about his father, Highway Superintendent Tom Best Sr. The flyer implied the town had hired Best Sr.'s numerous relatives and friends. Best Jr. denies accosting Reynolds, swearing at him and threatening his daughter's job.

Best was elected, and while attending his first meeting, he and Councilman Michael Quinn voted for a measure that laid off 54 part-timers and Reynolds. The action was to negate the planned layoffs of about 70 part-time workers and two full-time workers in the highway and buildings and grounds department. To save money and avoid raising taxes, the previous Town Board laid off the two workers, but their contract said they could not be laid off until all part-timers were dismissed.

In her decision, Siwek states that the cuts of the two full-time workers violated their union contract and that "it is undisputed that the town had cut these two positions as part of a cost-saving measure."

But she says there is no proof that the town's termination of Reynolds was to save money.

"The record before the court is devoid of any credible evidence that Brigit Reynolds' senior clerk position was abolished for purposes of economy and efficiency," she writes. "The credible evidence establishes that her position was abolished in retaliation for her father's political activity."

"The town had no rationale as to why they targeted this particular position. That was our strongest point in the case," said Jason P. Jaros, the attorney for Reynolds.

Councilman Best said he advocated for the clerk position to be restored if Supervisor Steven Walters could find the money in the budget, and he was in favor of making the job part time, but Reynolds turned down the part-time job. He said he has no problem with Reynolds and thinks she is a nice person.

Damages are to be set at a later date.

Best Sr. is running for re-election this year as highway superintendent.

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