“On My Dead Wife’s Grave” – Clarkstown Holds Workshop On Highway Report

 

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This poor highway department has been torn apart by everybody – Clarkstown Superintendent of Highways, Wayne Ballard

In September, 2014 the Town of Clarkstown announced that it had retained Public Sector HR Consultants LLC of Glenville, NY to conduct a review of the human resources practices and issues of concern on application of civil service rules and regulations in the Highway Department under the management of Superintendent Wayne Ballard. The report was received by the Town Board and Superintendent Ballard on January 02, 2015. On Tuesday, January 20, 2015 the Town held a Public Workshop permitting residents to comment on the report given that it had been paid for by taxpayers’ funds and was therefore a public document.

Prior to the opening of the workshop the Board entered into an Executive Session to discuss “various personnel issues” relating to the Public Sector HR Consultants, LLC report and “to receive legal advice” from the Town Attorney. During the public part of the meeting, which followed the Executive Session, the members of the Town Board and Superintendent Ballard were clearly restrained by what they could say given that the report had been turned over to the District Attorney by Councilman Hoehmann for examination on allegations of ‘theft of services’ and ‘theft of time’.

Three Clarkstown residents took the opportunity to address the Board each of which seemed ill-informed to various degrees of the background actions that had taken place prior to the consultants report being retained by the Town.

Steve Levine said that he wished to give the Board his personal input on the report and began by asking why the Board had requested the report. Hoehmann replied: “It was prompted by statements made by (Highway Department) staff coming to Town Board meetings and raising complaints about specific issues.” Hoehmann went on to say: “We (the Town Board) tried to take it out from people coming in to a public meeting to air grievances and put a constructive process to it to see if there were legitimate issues and if there were legitimate issues how they could be addressed. We wished to fix the work environment and insure that our employees were in a safe and healthy work environment”.

Levine asked for an estimate for the cost of the report ($25,000) and then went on to say that anyone can “manipulate a report” to get to get a desired result. He questioned the legitimacy of the categories of questions in the report saying that several people had indicated that they if they would leave the Highway Department tomorrow for another job that they could. Levine argued this was true of many employees working in other organizations. He characterized the questions a “subjective” and set up in a way to form a conclusion.

Levine asked why the five or six employees who had made specifically negative reports about their work environment had not followed the proper internal path open to them before raising the issues to an outside consultant. He pointed out there were many options to use the “internal civil service machine” and to proceed with such grievances to higher levels of authority.

His premise appears flawed as several of the employees have apparently followed what Levine stated were their options and they appear to have restated to the consultants why they had taken the actions which are presently going through the proper internal civil service channels.

Levine mentioned that political documents were allegedly found in Highway Department copier machines related to the recent attempt by Ballard’s former ‘Confidential Secretary’, Frank Sparaco to take control of the Town’s Republican Party Committee. He stated that there was no evidence at all for this except one person’s word that any such documents had ever come from Highway Department copier machines.

Presumably this is a point whose truthfulness can be determined by a forensic audit of these records particularly those of any interconnected copier machines and computers that were handling print jobs can be retrieved and examined. Given that many town employees are also provided with Clarkstown-owned cell phones, all text messages sent and received on these phones are the property of the Clarkstown Town Government and are also subject to a forensic audit by the Town.

Mr. Levine ended with accusations that there were groups of “special interests” in the town who want to go back to the “bad old days” before Highway Superintendent Ballard was “at the helm”. Who these “special interests” are or how they could have possibly caused a criminal investigation to be opened by the Town Board was not explained by Levine.

George Rumelt, a resident of New City, indicated he agreed “150%” with Levine and added that he too doubted that the complainants had gone through proper union procedures. His opinion in this matter appears not to conform with the facts given that grievances have been filed by the individuals in question. Mr. Rumelt, who has spoken repeatedly in public meetings about the Town’s Fleet manager, used the occasion of this discussion of the Consultants’ report about Ballard to bring undocumented charges against the Fleet manager concerning overtime.

During his remarks Rumelt referred to his source as being a newspaper writer who crosses every “i” (sic) and dots every “t” (sic). According to the Fleet Manager, Dennis Malone, an article appeared in the weekly Our Town newspaper making completely misleading statements about his overtime. The author apparently did not speak to the Fleet Manager to obtain his side of the issue concerning these allegations. The Fleet Manager subsequently requested time on WRCR to publicly respond to the questions about overtime pointing out that the author of the article had not called him, nor spoken directly to him, about his response. The Our Town also provided details of the consultants report about the Highway Department in the same article.

During his remarks Rumelt raised incorrect concerns about why busses were being checked when they arrived in the garage in the evening and again checked on the morning going out. He was apparently indicating that something improper was occurring with the multiple bus checks only to be informed later in the meeting by Ballard that the procedures being followed are those mandated by Federal law.

The final speaker from the public was Marge Hook, who along with Rumelt is a frequent speaker on behalf of Ballard at Town Board meetings. She has also spoken to the Town Board defending the actions of the now-arrested ex-confidential secretary to Ballard, Legislator Frank Sparaco. Hook once informed the town board that most of the Town Board members “would not be where they were without the help of Mr. Sparaco”.

Hook questioned the cost of the report ($25,000) saying it could have been done at lower cost apparently referring to an earlier attempt by Councilwoman Lasker to divert the independent investigation to a firm of her choice. She accused the Town Board of being “another Kangaroo court in session” which presumably implies that the District Attorney would be an agent of a ‘Kangaroo court’ should he proceed with an investigation of ‘theft of time’ and ‘theft of services’.

Hook referred to allegations of sexual harassment in the report and followed Levine’s and Rumelt’s apparent misunderstanding of the underlying facts. She inquired why the person who was allegedly sexually harassed did not go to her union representative or call the police. Hook, who seemed not to be aware of the grievances already filed, referred to the sexual allegations as “nonsense” leaving the basis for her having arrived at this opinion somewhat opaque.

Hook, like Rumelt, raised alleged sins of the Fleet Manager who ran against Ballard in the 2013 election. Hook referred to Malone as being “on the radio the other day” (as was Hook herself) in which the Fleet Manager discussed his overtime and that of other highway department and fleet maintenance people. She accused Councilman Borelli of knowing that the Fleet Manager said about himself that he “should not be getting overtime”.

A check of the record reveals that what the Fleet Manager actually said on WRCR was that his position required that he be paid overtime but that he would have absolutely no objection to the Town Board changing his job to one that paid “straight salary” as is the case with other department managers who work for the Town. Were that to be done, Malone stated all of his work that exceeded his normal working hours would NOT be eligible for overtime payments. The Fleet Manager had also pointed out on WRCR that his overtime was in alignment with everyone else in both the highway department and in the Town’s garages and that the overtime of all employees went up during the past several years because of hurricanes and blizzards which had all of the town’s highway and service employees working around the clock to keep vehicles up and running. Hook then demanded that if the Fleet Manager “feels he should not be getting overtime” then cut his overtime and give it to “the other guys”.

Hook believes that “the guys (Highway Department employees) who campaigned for Wayne were being slandered”. She demanded that the “persons making these accusations should be put under oath and made to swear that they are telling the truth”. Hook apparently did not seem to appreciate that what she desires is exactly what is set to occur should the DA proceed with a criminal prosecution of Mr. Ballard or other individuals working in his department.

Completely off the agenda item on the consultants’ report, Hook proceeded to offer an opinion about a Highway employee who had rear-ended several vehicles in Bardonia and subsequently failed a drug test for being under the influence of a controlled substance. Referring to the gentleman as “whatever that guy’s name is” followed by several mispronunciations of the employee’s name (Sambevski) she asserted that the information released about the accident and the drug test was “a public smear campaign”. She went on to suggest that the Town could go back into “the annals and find that certain guys in the Town have had accidents where people were killed”.

The logic behind this argument must have escaped all rational minds including those of the be-muddled if not befuddled Town Board members. Apparently, Hook’s defense of Superintendent Ballard’s driver having rear-ended a vehicle in Bardonia while driving under the influence of a controlled substance and declaring it to be a ‘public smear campaign’ rests on the fact that Sambevski hadn’t killed anyone.

Somewhat amazing, given the fact that the report is being reviewed by the district attorney, is that Ballard did not join the Town Board members in remaining silent. He had a prepared statement and began his comments, not by swearing on a proverbial ‘stack of bibles’, but stating that “on the grave of my wife” he hadn’t asked anybody to speak to the councilpersons on his behalf or about the report.

He continued: “The Clarkstown Highway Department became a battlefield in 2013 and I am disheartened what happened to it. A person that works there (Dennis Malone) ran (for the Highway Superintendent position); I ran. At times it seems it was almost bigger than the County Executive race and we had the tapes (referring to the surreptitiously recorded Sparaco tapes in which Ballard stood on a platform with Sparaco to accuse a Town Councilman and the Fleet manager of political corruption. Sparaco has since been arrested).

So this poor highway department has been torn apart .. by everybody.

I think that it is a crime that report was not brought to the Executive Board – before it went out onto the internet – to have an open discussion and at least have me have an opportunity to address the issues that are in there. Because, this should not be aired out there in the public. Look, I’m telling you that a big percentage of this could have been easily handled as opposed to what we have created and what you are hearing here tonight.

Serving the public as an elected official is a great American tradition. I am proud of my service to Clarkstown residents for the past many years. Yet public officials in the American way should be answerable to the voters and not anonymous complaints. When the Town Board moves forward with this report, note that it is based on anonymous complaints and I respectfully submit that this is not part of the American way. While I welcome and will fully cooperate with any review consistent with my civil rights regarding my actions as a Highway Superintendent I would urge that the Town Board and others recognize those civil rights in taking any actions”.

At the end of the meeting some discussion ensued between Councilman Hoehmann and Superintendent Ballard about when Mr. Ballard had received his copy of the report which had been paid for with taxpayers’ funds. Ballard indicated that it was his belief  the report should have been discussed internally by the Town Board before it appeared in the public media on January 6/7.   It was confirmed during the exchange between Hoehmann and Ballard that all members of the Town Board along with Mr. Ballard received the report on January 02, 2015.

Finally, rumors circulating that Ballard was not interviewed for the report were put to rest.  Ballard confirmed that he had indeed been interviewed by the consultants early in their process but complained he was not given the opportunity to have a follow-up meeting with the consultants at the end of the process.  It appears that none of the highway department employees were interviewed more than one time and it was also made clear that members of the Town Board received no prior information about the report prior to the time they received the document on January 02, 2015.

About Michael N. Hull

Michael N. Hull has lived in Rockland County for 35 years where he writes articles on philosophy and political affairs. Hull has written over 300 articles for New City Patch and Rockland Voice. He is presently a senior editor of the Facebook page Clarkstown: What They Don't Want You To Know and a senior editor of Rockland Voice.

About the Author
Michael N. Hull has lived in Rockland County for 35 years where he writes articles on philosophy and political affairs. Hull has written over 300 articles for New City Patch and Rockland Voice. He is presently a senior editor of the Facebook page Clarkstown: What They Don't Want You To Know and a senior editor of Rockland Voice.

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