Set in stone
After allegations surfaced that stone material has been delivered to the driveways of several Marlborough Highway employees, the Town Board scheduled a special meeting on July 19 to discuss the matter.
Supervisor Stephen Osborn said there is no town policy in place that governs the disposal of spent or waste material and nothing that addresses the use of town labor, equipment and fuel to deliver the material.
Osborn said Highway Superintendent Gael Appler has submitted a policy to the board for their consideration.
“I imagine we will alter and amend [it] as we see fit in the next several days,” he said.
Osborn said he is hopeful that a new policy will soon be adopted by the board that sets out clear parameters going forward. Councilman Dr. Anthony Pascale questioned if the policy would stand on its own or would it be incorporated into the Employee Handbook. Osborn responded “I don’t want to say at this point” but he promised to have an answer on this at the next board meeting.
When the Town Board asked if the stone was new or old material and whether it had any value, Osborn deferred to Appler.
“I’d rather not comment on it [but] it was waste, that’s all,” Appler said.
Pressed on whether it was ¾ inch stone, Appler said it did not matter; insisting it was waste that was picked up from the roadway. Appler said the amount was insignificant “and this entire matter was much ado about nothing.”
Eric Affuso said there was no investigation done by the Police Department and directed any additional questions to Police Chief Gerald Cocozza.
A request made under the Freedom of Information Law [FOIL] to Cocozza for a report he sent to the Town Board on this matter was denied by the Chief. He stated this would be an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy and that he considers the report an inter-agency or intra-agency document and not subject to public release.
Robert Freeman, Executive Director of New York State Committee on Open Government, disagrees with Cocozza’s conclusions.
“Factual information within intra-agency material is public unless a separate exception applies,” he said, adding that the name of a private citizen who witnessed an alleged incident may be blacked out from a document slated for release.
Freeman touched upon Cocozza’s claim that releasing the document is an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.
“The courts have held time and again that we public employees have less privacy than anybody else,” he said. “We’re supposed to be more accountable than anybody else.”
Freeman added that the courts have also stipulated that items or actions relating to the duties of public officials or employees “are usually public because disclosure in those circumstances would result in a permissible [and] not an unwarranted invasion of privacy.”
Freeman made the distinction that a town employee taking his child to Little League is private but “If you’re talking about taking materials from the town garage and bringing them home, that’s another matter. In my opinion, that would be public.”
Freeman said the Police Chief’s report and any photographic evidence should be made available to the public.
Another FOIL request has been submitted to Town Clerk, Colleen Corcoran, who is the Records Access Officer for Marlborough, seeking release of all materials concerning this matter.
In a separate interview Osborn admitted there is an issue if material is being delivered to town personnel on town time.
“I think it is a problem that’s been ongoing for some time that its being delivered to people who work for the town, but that excess stone is being gotten rid of in a way that sort of has no formulae,” he said. “The problem then is who gets stone and who doesn’t and how is that decided [and] what is the rationale of that. I think that it got delivered to one of the guys who works for the town brings it to the forefront but I think the greater problem is how is that being done, and is that something that the public would be OK with.”
Osborn did say there is a finite amount of space at the town highway department and that the removal of excess waste material actually benefits the town. He was quick to add that the establishment of a clear policy by the Town Board on how this is handled will eliminate any questions in the future surrounding this issue.
By Mark Reynolds