The Examiner

No. Castle Makes Provisional Chief’s Appointment Amidst Charges of Cover-up

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North Castle Police Lt. Peter Simonsen was appointed provisional chief of the town’s police force Wednesday night replacing Geoffrey Harisch who announced his resignation two weeks ago because of alleged harassment by Town Administrator Joan Goldberg.

Simonsen, 50, who has been with the department since 1990, will take over the helm on Sunday. He began his law enforcement career in Pound Ridge in 1989 before transferring to North Castle and working his way up through the ranks.

Simultaneously, Harisch, elevated to chief last August, will be allowed to return to his previous lieutenant’s position under civil service law because he is still within the one-year probationary period.

“(It’s) an honor to have earned the confidence and trust and the endorsement of this board and a privilege to be the next chief of the Town of North Castle Police Department,” Simonsen said during Wednesday night’s town board meeting.

“I am very proud to be part of this department and look forward to a bright future of continued success and accomplishment,” he added.

However, the appointment was overshadowed by continuing controversy surrounding Harisch’s decision to step down from the post. The outgoing chief read his May 15 resignation letter during the public comments portion of the meeting. The letter accused Goldberg and the town board of failing to act on overtime abuses that he uncovered by retired Lt. William Fisher and refusing to appoint two officers to fill vacancies that would have provided the department with adequate manpower.

Harisch said if he would have continued as chief it would have negatively affected the department and left him without job security.

“I was denied an opportunity in my career and they knew that,” Harisch said on Thursday. “I needed to go back to my union protected position. I had to be protected. I have no choice.”

He and Jason Berland, the attorney who represented Harisch on his notice of claim filing against Goldberg and the town in January regarding similar allegations, continued to call on officials to conduct an independent audit of the department’s compensatory overtime records since 2000. Harisch said he had spoken with an Westchester County assistant district attorney who made the same recommendation.

But Wednesday night Town Attorney Roland Baroni told Harisch that his conclusion was wrong. Baroni read a letter sent to the town from the district attorney’s office earlier this year, which never mentioned that an independent audit should be conducted.

“It was our determination that this matter should be handled administratively by the Town of North Castle,” the letter read. “Accordingly, we are referring this matter back to the Town of North Castle for whatever administrative action is deemed appropriate.”

Harisch and Berland countered on Thursday that while the current town board never conducted proper investigations into Goldberg’s alleged abusive behavior or the excessive overtime, Fisher was docked $15,000 from his terminal leave pay. The board’s decision to cut Fisher’s pay, was in acknowledgement of some level of wrongdoing, Berland said.

Berland, who filed another notice of claim against Goldberg and the town on behalf of his wife, former comptroller Faith Berland, who also  charged the administrator with harassment, said the town is trying to sweep Goldberg’s actions under the rug.

“To be crystal clear, there was no investigation into Joan Goldberg’s harassing behavior,” he said in a statement on Thursday. “Nobody spoke to Chief Harisch once he came forward to illuminate Goldberg’s deplorable and illegal actions. The only conversation the Board had with Chief Harisch involved abuses of overtime pay.”

Supervisor  Michael Schiliro said that the town’s special labor counsel had completed its investigation and found no evidence of wrongdoing on Goldberg’s part.

He lauded Goldberg for her professionalism, and a short time later, Fisher’s dedication to the community.

“I have found (Joan Goldberg) to be a very professional municipal employee,” Schiliro said. “We have our debates and disagreements. I always try to learn something from them. I hope she learns something from me. I find her to be competent and knows the municipal world very well and I always appreciated anything I can learn from you.”

Despite the swirling controversy, Simonsen said he and Harisch have had a good working relationship and doesn’t expect there to be problems when they switch posts.

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