Time to do the right thing

Published 8:19 pm Saturday, September 4, 2010

It’s hard to imagine the dustup between Suffolk Electoral Board Secretary David Sylvia and former Voter Registrar Sharon Thornhill turning out well for the Electoral Board.

Sylvia has admitted sending Thornhill a sexually inappropriate email showing a nude woman having body paint applied to look like a bikini. He claims that he didn’t know he had sent it to her until confronted about it months later. Sending the risqué email was an accident, he says, suggesting in a recent interview that there must have been a “magic keystroke, or a virus” involved in the snafu. More likely is that his email software’s auto-complete feature picked the wrong recipient when he typed the first few letters of a name, and he never noticed the error.

Whatever the case, Sylvia did the right thing by apologizing to Thornhill when she made the mistake known. But an apology does not absolve an offender of the consequences of his actions. And one consequence of Sylvia’s “mistake” was that he was no longer fit to evaluate Thornhill’s job performance as one of her bosses. The knowledge of the inappropriate email would always be the proverbial elephant in the room between the two, potentially coloring any decisions that needed to be made.

Given the situation, Sylvia’s best and most proper course of action would have been to resign his position on the Electoral Board on the spot. Then, another member could have been appointed, and the new full board could have commenced with the job of evaluating Thornhill’s performance. If the newly constituted group had decided that she needed to be replaced, the decision could have been made without the taint of potential sexual harassment charges.

As things stand currently, since Sylvia did not resign when it was most proper for him to do so, it will not be surprising for the matter of Thornhill’s subsequent forced resignation to end up in court. Accident or no, sending sexually explicit material to an employee and later forcing her to resign is a recipe for a lawsuit.

Though it might not affect any such lawsuit, the proper course of action is still available to Sylvia. Having sullied the reputation of Suffolk’s Electoral Board, he should now step down and ask that the Circuit Court replace him on that body.

It will not be an easy thing to do. Doing the right thing is often very hard, but we are all called on to do right, even when it is difficult to do so.