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Legislature approves special counsel to investigate claims related to Dirschberger charges

Albany County District Attorney

A special counsel will soon be hired to investigate accusations that Erie County has not done enough to protect its employees from sexual misconduct. Thursday's unanimous vote the Erie County Legislature follows claims - and a notice of intention to file legal action - by a county employee who accuses Erie County of not doing enough to protect workers from sexual harassment. 

The unnamed county employee alleges her former boss, Al Dirschberger, sexually assaulted her last December while both were on a trip to Albany. Dirschberger, then the county's Social Services Commissioner, was removed from office and in January charged with rape.

Legislature Minority Leader Joseph Lorigo announced Thursday he had submitted a resolution calling for the hiring of a special counsel to investigate claims that the Poloncarz administration did not do enough to ensure a safe working environment. 

"There have reports made to the Legislature, letters that were sent, emails, indicating Mr. Dirschberger may have had a history of prior bad behavior," Lorigo said. 

"We want to know what was going on during his employ, and whether anybody knew."

A spokesman for County Executive Mark Poloncarz told WBFO in a written message that the administration had no knowledge of any wrongdoing until last December's alleged incident. The spokesman continued by stating Poloncarz approached the County Attorney about conducting an internal investigation. 

Credit Michael Mroziak / WBFO News
Erie County Legislature Minority Leader Joseph Lorigo speaks Thursday prior to a session during which his peers voted unanimously to hire a special independent counsel to investigate claims related to a pending rape case against former Social Services Commissioner Al Dirschberger.

Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw, who called for a special counsel on Wednesday, says the administration should have no part in the investigation. 

"I do want to make sure that this process is fair, impartial and independent," Mychajliw said Thursday. "Through the committee process, if we find attorney or special counsel that has ties with the county executive or the legislature, then the entire process is a kangaroo court and would be moot."

The independent counsel, under Lorigo's proposal, will be selected following a request-for-proposals process.

The Poloncarz spokesman told WBFO they are satisfied with the vote to hire a special independent counsel, saying "either way, more information will be gathered."

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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