Members of the Town Board placed a fired Highway Department worker on paid leave this week and hired a private attorney to conduct a probe into a disciplinary matter preceding his termination.
The board passed a resolution that “stays all disciplinary action” against highway worker Henry Kingsland, “including but not limited to his termination from employment.” The board also hired a law firm, Whiteman Osterman & Hanna of Albany, to conduct a probe “into an employee disciplinary matter,” according to the unanimously approved resolution.
Highway Superintendent Steve Perog declined to comment on the matter Wednesday, citing the confidentiality of personnel issues. However, he did question the move to put Kingsland on paid leave and whether his salary would come out of the town budget or highway fund.
“I’d love to hire another man, but I don’t have the money in my budget,” he said.
Kingsland, who was terminated by the town last week, will be placed on paid leave, according to a resolution passed by the board. The town’s four highway department workers earn a base pay of about $47,000 with full benefits, according to Perog.
Supervisor Rene Merrihew, who has been at odds with Perog since his election in 2008, declined to comment on the issue. She said she’s grown weary of Perog’s “ineptness.”
“But he was elected by the people of the town of Duanesburg,” she said.
Contacted at his home Wednesday, Kingsland said he had “no comment on anything to do with the highway department.”
Kingsland was a vocal critic of Perog’s leadership at the department in October, when he approached the board about what he considered a poor and unsafe working environment. Among his accusations, he said Perog sent highway workers to remote locations alone to operate heavy machinery, including chain saws and wood chippers.
“It’s become a common practice to push things to the limit and then go a little bit further,” Kingsland said of Perog’s leadership during the board meeting. “And if you don’t do it, you get sent home.”
A call to the law firm hired by the town was not returned Wednesday.
Perog and the Town Board have frequently argued over the operation of the highway department. Perog claims his budget is chronically underfunded by the board, which makes it impossible for him to maintain the 46 miles of town-owned roads winding through Duanesburg.
But the board has been critical of Perog for failing to adequately manage his own resources. They also claim his erratic fashion of operating the department has created a gigantic legal liability for the town.
For instance, a town resident has filed a notice of claim against the town after falling into an unmarked hole that was dug by the highway department on private property off Duane Avenue. Department workers left the area after discovering a ruptured sewage pipe, and Perog allegedly told them he would return to the site to cordon off the hole.
Town officials were rankled by Perog’s performance after a storm Tuesday dumped more than a foot of snow on the roads. Merrihew said she received almost a dozen complaints from residents who said their roads remained unplowed until late Wednesday morning.
“There wasn’t a plow on [one resident’s] road until 11 a.m.,” she said.
Perog admitted the response to the storm was slower than normal, but attributed the delay to his shortage of manpower. He said the loss of a highway worker means his crew was working at three-quarters of its capacity.
“We could have really used an extra man,” he said.