Legislator comments on Veterans Service Agency situation

May 19, 2024 at 10:23 pm by Observer-Review

Phil Barnes at legislative meeting
BY Brandon Lawson
Editor's Note: The print version of this story incorrectly identified the meeting which was referenced by Alice Conklin in front of the legislature. There was a gathering for veterans at the Odessa Fire Department. Conklin did not attend and was not speaking about the Schuyler County Council of Governments meeting. We apologize for the error.
SCHUYLER COUNTY--The Schuyler County legislature met for a regular meeting Monday, May 13. This was the first meeting since the change in leadership at the Veterans Service Agency, and there were a number of veterans present in the audience Monday night.
However, there were only two comments regarding the situation, one from the public and the other from legislator Phil Barnes.
Alice Conklin, the wife of a Vietnam veteran and daughter-in-law of a World War II veteran, spoke to the group regarding the situation with the former director of the Schuyler County Veterans Service Agency, Kristine Gardner. She spoke about a previous meeting at the Odessa Fire Department where some 50+ people attended, including many local veterans, to support Gardner.
Conklin asked the legislature if it would in fact be necessary for a petition to be signed to change the way a department head could either directly or indirectly lose their position by the decision of the chairman of the legislature and the county administrator. Conklin added veterans she has spoken to are, “ready to get petitions to go in the community but they don’t want to do it if it’s not the right way to accomplish it.”
After the resolutions of the night were voted on, Legislator Phil Barnes noted the number of constituents that were present at the meeting saying, “I need some clarification...[the constituents] have a grave concern about how things are operating the way they are and they want to make changes.”
Adding, “The thing is, these people are upset. And I felt very upset along with the rest of you (referencing the veterans). We had no knowledge of what went on...I’m embarrassed I didn’t know anything.” He referenced his 50 years with the county and said there was never a communication problem, even before things such as text messages and email. “Petitions are to get these people here (referencing the fellow legislators) to be concerned like I am,” answered Barnes to Conklin.
The only comment the county has made about the change at the Veterans Service Agency was in writing after stories were published following the Council of Governments meeting. The statement said, “No positions or services have been eliminated and none will be. A new director will be hired, and our existing Veterans Service Officer (VSO) will continue serving our veteran community. Additional support will be given to the VSO until a new director can be hired...Due to the need to protect every employee’s privacy, no confidential or private personnel information can be divulged without written permission.”
One of the resolutions on Monday night approved the creation and filling of a less than full time temporary clerk position in the Veterans Service Department while a new director is sought.
All other resolutions were passed during the meeting with the exception of Intro No. 7 which was withdrawn.
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