ITHACA, N.Y. — A special adviser has been appointed to the Tompkins County Office of Human Rights while director Karen Baer is absent.

County Administrator Joe Mareane has appointed Kenneth Clarke, Sr. to to serve the role. Clarke will provide “executive leadership and oversight” to the office while Baer is absent.

Baer was placed on unpaid leave Oct. 13.

The county has declined to comment on the circumstances of Baer’s absence, but documents released by Baer show she was charged with insubordination, failure to fulfill to duties and creating a “dysfunctional environment.” Baer has denied the allegations and said removing her from her post was done in retaliation after she made claims of discrimination against the county. A county investigation found the allegations were unfounded.

Now, Baer is legally fighting the claims against her.

Digging into the investigation and removal of Tompkins Office of Human Rights director

A county news release said Clarke has engaged in a variety of social justice, community and professional activities throughout his career.  He retired from Cornell University in June 2017 after serving for 16 years as the director of Cornell United Religious Work. Clarke’s resume is available here.

Clarke started Monday and is in a contract position to provide executive leadership to OHR. Clarke is expected to provide “oversight, guidance, and assistance to the staff of the county’s Office of Human Rights and establish a strong leadership presence to carry on the county’s human rights mission.”

The contract position will end once the vacancy is filled, either by the return of Baer or through the hiring of another director, according to Tompkins County public information officer Marcia Lynch.

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.