2015-04-22 / News

Middletown board feud erupts over handling of employee complaint

By Joan Lawrence-Bauer
Town of Middletown Councilman Jake Rosa drew the ire of Supervisor Marge Miller and Councilman Michael Finberg last Tuesday night when he advised them he had asked the New York State Department of Labor (DOL) to investigate a complaint made against Miller by a town employee.

In March, Town Code Enforcement Officer (CEO) Carl “Pat” Davis, presented the board with a letter accusing Miller of harassment and of making slanderous accusations about him.
In his letter, Davis said, “Over the three years I have worked with Supervisor Miller, I have been subjected to numerous instances of her uncontrolled screaming, her fist slamming on desks, and her use of language that I would be embarrassed to use publicly.” He added, “These incidents of intimidation are violations of the Town’s Workplace Violence Protection Policy. No Town employee should be subjected to them – and yet all of us are.”

Department of Labor request
In the meeting, which followed a public hearing on new zoning regulations (see related story) Rosa shared a letter he sent to DOL that morning asking them to investigate the accusations against Miller. In it he said, “To my knowledge the town has never received a complaint against its supervisor and the board never had this issue to deal with.”
Davis submitted his complaint letter at the March 10 meeting of the board but it was not read into the public record at that time. Rosa said he asked for the town attorney to be brought to the April meeting so all board members could review the matter with legal counsel. However Supervisor Miller and the town’s attorney both advised Rosa that Miller was handling the matter herself and that the attorney would not be present to meet with the board.
“I have serious concerns about this,” Rosa said in his letter to DOL. “… the defendant or accused is conducting the investigation. The supervisor is trying to make this go away (which I can fully understand) but my concern is if the board doesn’t act and something is to happen….”

Lots of tension
Rosa alleged that “after the CEO issued the complaint there have been several more things the supervisor has been demanding from the CEO and tension in the office is quite scary.” Rosa said the “tension has spilled over to the entire building … and now seems to be in the clerk’s office, assessor’s office and even the justice court.”
When he presented his letter, with Davis’ complaint letter attached to it, the board discussed both briefly in open meeting, making the entire situation an open matter of public record. Rosa said to his fellow board members “Look, we’ve got a written complaint against Marge and she’s the one investigating. That’s my big concern. I’m not talking about whether it’s true or false. I’m just saying that Marge shouldn’t be investigating it.”

Can’t investigate oneself
Rosa went on to add that he felt no member of the board could effectively lead a credible investigation at this time because everyone had either real or perceived conflicts of interest. “Marge shouldn’t investigate, the board can’t, so I want a third party looking at this.”
When Supervisor Miller chastised Rosa for not following proper procedures he pointed out that he tried to do that. “Look at the training we had, and look at our policy,” said Rosa. “Why can’t we [board members] speak with the attorney? Who is the attorney working for?”
As Miller moved to shut down the discussion Rosa added, “You are not the sole individual in charge. It is this board. All of us are responsible and we are responsible for all staff. I want to do what we need to do to fix this.”
Board members moved into other matters on their agenda including a long process of trying to calculate how much money the town might save if it bought a car and made designated employees use it instead of paying them mileage for using their own vehicles. The discussion was directly and primarily related to the CEO whose complaint had been the subject of the first argument of the evening.
As board members weighed in on pros and cons of different types of vehicles, and tried to calculate everything from gas mileage that might be anticipated, fluctuating costs of gas purchased on contract rates, maintenance and repair costs, whether to buy locally or on contract, and who else might use the vehicle, the numbers being discussed continued to change. It was never clear exactly how many miles Davis drives during an average year, and whether or not other employees would actually be able to access the vehicle. The matter was finally referred back to Councilman Finberg and Highway Superintendent John Biruk for more research and review.
Board members circled back for more angry words at the end of their meeting before going into an executive session. By then, more than three hours after they had started, members of the public had long departed. But the row continued through the end of the meeting and the end of the week, when Miller sent comments to the News via e-mail saying, “Rosa contacted the Department of Labor with vague unfounded and outright false information regarding the personnel matter with regard to Davis.”
Miller also said in her comments: “In the month since we received the letter of complaint from Pat Davis, he has admitted the substance of the letter is untrue.” She closed her comments by accusing Rosa of, “once more going above and beyond his role as a town board member, similar to actions he took in the wake of Hurricane Irene in 2011, creates drama where there is none, demonstrating only that he is an immature and thoughtless legislator.”
Contacted by the News on Monday afternoon, CEO Davis said “I stand by the letter which I submitted to the Town Board. I believe the New York State Department of Labor investigation will confirm the statements made in the letter.

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