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Investigation finds former Niskayuna official engaged in racist display

Jan 20, 2021 5:30 am

Paul Nelson is reporting for the Times Union former Niskayuna town Comptroller Paul Sebesta displayed a photo of himself in blackface on his work email account in 2014 and 2016, told employees the image also was part of a calendar at his office, and engaged in other objectionable conduct during his tenure, according to the findings of an investigation conducted by the Nixon Peabody law firm and commissioned by the town. Sebesta was for many years during his 32-year career the town's highest-paid employee. On June 18, he submitted a letter of resignation, three days after the town board received a letter that brought the photo to its attention. The law firm investigation found that in 2018 Sebesta posted the photo of himself "dressed as a person from the Caribbean/West Indies in the spirit of Bob Marley" to his personal Facebook page that identified him as town comptroller. Specifically, Sebesta wore “artificially darkened skin, artificial [non-Caucasian] facial hair and wearing a wig of fake dreadlocks under a knit hat.” Blackface is the makeup used by a non-black person to mimic the appearance of a person of color. It was a hallmark of old minstrel shows that has been deemed a racist display for decades. Some town employees "objected to the offensive nature of the photo on more than one occasion, telling Sebesta that he should not be publicly displaying it, particularly in light of his Human Resources responsibility." Other town employees were offended, but said nothing, the report said, while noting "still other employees saw nothing wrong with it." Sebesta's attorney, Kevin Luibrand, admitted his client wore the Bob Marley costume to a Halloween party, and then posted the photo. He said when his client was told the image was offensive, he took it down. Nixon Peabody reported Sebesta had “engaged in other objectionable conduct ... that was not fully investigated or documented." Sebesta formally retired in July. On January 19, Lynell Engelmyer, co-founder of Progressive Schenectady, said in a statement the group appreciated board members clarifying "their position on the use of 'blackface' and other insensitive or outright offensive behavior by town employees..." According to town officials, training is now offered for staff, department heads and board members on diversity, inclusion and racial equity. Read the full story in the Times Union.