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Activists call for transparency around probe of former Niskayuna official's behavior

Nov 25, 2020 2:30 pm
Paul Nelson is reporting for the Times Union five months since Niskayuna officials announced plans to investigate a photo posted to Facebook two years ago by now-retired town Comptroller Paul Sebesta, showing him in blackface. Local activists are calling for the findings of the investigation to be released. Days after the issue came to light in June, Sebesta, a Democrat who also served as the head of the town's human resources department, announced his retirement. Sebesta said he bought the Halloween costume he wore in 2014 during a cruise stop on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts. He said that he immediately took the post down from social media when he learned it was offensive. The members of the small activist group, Members of Progressive Schenectady, brought attention to the matter. The group is now pressing town Supervisor Yasmine Syed to make public the work done by the law firm Nixon Peabody. The group also says some town board members have downplayed the importance of the matter. Progressive Schenectady's demand comes as emails allegedly sent by Sebesta in July and December of 2009 to his wife have surfaced. One of the emails shows a racist caricature of then-President Barack Obama, and the other was an equally racist depiction of then-First Lady Michelle Obama. Syed, a Republican, told an audience at a recent town board meeting that she hoped that the law firm's report would come out soon. Lynell Engelmyer with Progressive Schenectady said the blackface controversy shows Niskayuna needs a moment of reckoning."It is about the fact that there are people in this town who are not willing to call out his behavior so I don't know that getting rid of Paul Sebesta solves the problem if we're not dealing with the root of it," she said. "Part of the problem is lack of transparency and not showing us that report, why is that?" Read the full story in the Times Union.
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