At the Clarkstown Town Board Meeting of February 3, 2015 several citizens raised questions about the recent report it had received from Public Sector HR Consultants LLC of Glenville, NY. The consultants had conducted a review of the human resources practices in the Highway Department after issues of concern had been raised on the application of civil service rules and regulations in the Highway Department under the management of Superintendent Wayne Ballard.
These issues were brought to the Board’s attention by Peter Bradley of the Clarkstown Preservation Society among others. Questions had arisen among highway department personnel as to whether there is an ‘in’ group who were favored by Ballard for working with him and Sparaco in collecting absentee ballots for Ballard’s election.
Bradley addressed the Town Board saying:
The Highway Consultant Report came back and was very damning to the Highway Department. About eight months ago when I came up here along with other workers and brought this to the attention of the Board the idea was that since we have had several complaints let’s hire an independent auditor that no one knows in the Town of Clarkstown to do a report and an assessment with interviews of the employees.
The report was exceptionally damning and I as a civil servant understand that when people were getting promoted out of sequence for campaigning for the individual who is their boss this is a problem; this is illegal. So my question is what will be done by the Board?
I understand that Mr. Ballard runs the department and he will be answerable to the voters in November. My question is though, what will the Board do to protect the citizens of Clarkstown against lawsuits with improper promotion or hiring practices?
I would recommend a few things. Employees should not be carrying ballots, they should not be carrying petitions, they should not be going to fundraisers for their boss, they should not be manning phone banks, they should not be putting out lawn signs. On election day they can vote for whomsoever they want but to keep doing this brings back the results of what we had with this independent audit of the (Highway Department) workers. It is apparently a very hostile work environment to go in there if one is not in that select crew of the “chosen good guys”.
I would like to know if there is any corrective actions that are going to be taken by the board since now the Town is legally liable since the report has been done, paid for, has come back and is a disaster.
Marge Hook pointed out that in a January 28, 2015 issue of the weekly newspaper ‘Our Town’ it was stated that “the Consultant’s report had been handed over to the District attorney based on allegations made in the report and that Mr. Gromack had subsequently said that he had received word the DA found ‘no merit in their allegations and closed down the prospects of an investigation’. She added that the report had “appeared on the internet on January 06, 2015 but that there was no mention now that the DA was not going to investigate”.
Supervisor Gromack indicated that the Town Board has asked the Town Attorney to do some additional research and once that research is completed the Board may have another public discussion of the issues raised. He pointed out that there were ten recommendations in the report of which decisions had been agreed to by the Board on how to take action on six of them which involved recommendations from the consultants to:
1) Require all Highway Department employees and supervisors to participate in a review of personnel policies and procedures contained in the Employee Handbook and the CSEA Collective Bargaining Agreement dealing especially with tardiness, unauthorized absences and misuse of Town Resources.
2) Provide corrective discipline for the Highway Superintendent and several levels of Highway Supervisor focusing on consistent application of work rules.
3) Provide awareness training for Highway employees on workplace discrimination and harassment including sexual harassment.
4) Update the Drug and Alcohol Testing policy for those holding commercial driver’s licenses and ensure compliance.
5): Provide training on reasonable suspicion of drug and alcohol use.
6) Should negotiate a separate Drug and Alcohol Policy for Highway employees who perform safety functions.
Mr. Gromack stated that the first three of the items in the report were more problematic and were still under the Board’s review given possible legal actions that might be involved. The Board had met in Executive Session prior to the public meeting and returned into Executive Session for further discussion. These items are:
1) The Town should conduct an audit of the time records for the Highway Department for the past 24 months in an effort to substantiate or refute the allegations that some employees have been granted paid leave before it was earned, have taken unauthorized leaves of absence, or frequently report late to work. This audit may also reveal if sick leave is being used in accordance with the CSEA collective bargaining agreement and established Town policies, or if a pattern of sick leave abuse exists. If abuse is uncovered, the Town should take the corrective action to ensure that these employees are held accountable. These records should be monitored on an on-going basis to ensure compliance.
2) In light of the allegations that Town resources were misused for campaign-related activity, the Town should review town-owned electronic devices including cell phones, computers and copiers issued to the Highway Department to determine if any of these devices have been used for purposes other than Town-related business. If the records indicate misuse, the Town should take corrective action.
3) The Town Attorney’s Office should initiate contact with the five participants who alleged sexual harassment, age discrimination and retaliation in order to assess whether an independent investigation would be appropriate.
Supervisor Gromack and Councilman Hoehmann then reported on the question as to the actions of the District Attorney following submission of the report to him reportedly by both the Town Attorney and Councilman Hoehmann. Apparently the report about “no merit” published by ‘Our Town’ was not factual. Gromack said that he received information from Deputy Town Attorney Millman who had spoken with the DA. The DA had reviewed the report and from his point of view would be taking no further action. In subsequent comments Councilman Hoehmann indicated that the DA had decided to take no action not because there was “no merit” to the indications of criminality in the report but that “any criminality that was provable would be very difficult to determine”.
The Town Board indicated that it had further work to do on the report in Executive Session and that future public meetings and workshops may be held as further decisions were made.