POTSDAM — The Town Council on Tuesday night authorized Town Supervisor Ann M. Carvill to hire a non-union confidential secretary at a $49,500 salary.
The vote was unanimous, with no discussion, following an executive session to discuss collective bargaining issues.
Ms. Carvill said in a Thursday phone interview that the need for a confidential secretary arises during negotiations between town workers’ unions and town management, so that the secretary’s interests aren’t aligned with the unions.
“It would be somebody who is not in the union, who would be given access to confidential information that must obviously be kept that way,” the supervisor said.
Ms. Carvill’s current secretary is supervisor’s clerk Peggy Bruso, though Ms. Carvill said “I’m not going to personalize it by using any names.” Ms. Bruso is also shop steward for Teamsters Local 687, which represents Town Hall workers.
Brian K. Hammond, Local 687 president, said he doesn’t see any issues with the supervisor appointing a confidential secretary.
“They’re free to hire whoever they want … that’s always been the right of the town anyway,” Mr. Hammond said, adding that he sees the move as “part of their everyday business.”
“Peggy’s got seniority and she’s still under contract,” he added.
In her phone interview, Ms. Carvill offered some other opinions on how a non-union confidential secretary serves the public interest.
“If there are confidential matters pertinent to personnel, it would probably be a better thing to have that shared with a confidential secretary rather than someone who is with the union, and may share that with colleagues in the union,” Ms. Carvill said. “In negotiations when management is gathering info to make a compelling argument with the union, we’re trying to get a fair deal for the workers but we’re also responsible to the public in terms of taxing them. We’re representing tax payers … the union is representing workers.”
“Unions want the best deal for their workers, as it should be. Management is concerned with what’s in the public interest,” she added.
Ms. Carvill said she also feels having a confidential secretary is beneficial to the public when it comes to dealing with information that could lead to a lawsuit if divulged.
“It’s in the interest of the public to have someone working with information and who knows the risks of jeopardizing confidentiality,” Ms. Carvill said. “Sometimes there are personnel issues, and these matters must be kept highly confidential, especially if it has something to do with, say, someone’s health. Under HIPAA, that must be kept strictly private. It’s in the public’s interest if the information is shared with a secretary of the nature we’re hiring, that person would be required to not put the public at risk … the town could be sued.”
HIPAA, the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, was established in 1996 and sets national standards to protect sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without the patient’s consent or knowledge.