The Ulster County Legislature has officially censured Legislator Hector Rodriguez for his sexual harassment towards other legislators and members of local government.
On Tuesday, Nov. 19, the Legislature voted 17-5 to censure Rodriguez, which would consist of publicly condemning him. This is the first time the Ulster County Legislature has censured one of their own legislators.
Rodriguez was found, after an investigation by Roemer Wallens Gold & Mineaux, to be guilty of multiple accounts of sexual harassment towards many of his coworkers.
Censuring Rodriguez is the furthest action the Legislature can take. Since Rodriguez is an elected official, the only way for him to leave his elected position is to step down himself, which he has said he will not do since his term ends on Dec. 31.
Women first started coming forward about this harassment at the beginning of the year. Kathleen Tobin, deputy mayor of New Paltz, sent emails to the Ulster County Legislature in March asking for an investigation on the Legislator.
The investigation reported findings of behavior from Rodriguez such as “forcible kissing” and “relentless, unwanted and inappropriate communications,” according to an email sent by Tobin to the Ulster County Legislature on March 29.
The investigation report was released on Oct. 4 and the Village of New Paltz released a statement on the same day supporting the resignation of Rodriguez. While County Executive Pat Ryan released a statement on Oct. 4 to show support of censuring Rodriguez, no action was officially taken until Nov. 19.
“The County’s mechanisms for investigating allegations of sexual harassment against a legislator need to be strengthened, so that the process is quicker and easier for both elected officials and the public to understand,” said Kathy Nolan, the Ulster County legislator who submitted the resolution to censure Rodriguez.
Nolan thought the Legislature hadn’t made a formal enough of a statement condemning this behavior and was worried the women who stepped forward against Rodriguez would feel like they were not being heard and no action was being taken.
“[This] has given voice and support to the women who had complaints about his behavior and has established a public standard for the behavior of legislators, in terms of sexual harassment,” Nolan later said the resolution was passed on Nov. 19. “Public officials must be willing to challenge and investigate their colleagues when allegations of sexual harassment or other unacceptable behavior emerge, and public officials must be willing to bring unacceptable behaviors to light and to censure their colleagues and call for resignation, when necessary.”
The five legislators who voted against the censure of Rodriguez were Richard Gerentine of Marlboro, Joe Maloney of Saugerties, Manna Jo Greene of Rosendale, Rev. Julius Collins of Ellenville and Laura Petit of Esopus.
“As elected officials we must set a higher standard to fight against unwelcome sexual advances and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. We will continue to send a clear message that this behavior will not be tolerated within our county,” said County Legislator Heidi Haynes, who sponsored the resolution. “I thank the brave women who came forward to share their testimony as well as members of the public and my colleagues who joined me in cooperating with the investigation.”
Haynes is part of a subgroup of the Ulster County Legislature that is “drafting a code of conduct policy for elected officials which will include a complaint procedure to ensure that there is a mechanism in place to handle future complaints. It should be clear that Ulster County has zero tolerance for sexual harassment or retaliation.”