Less than a week ago, Lake George Park Commission Executive Director David Wick returned to his job from a two-week suspension.
The suspension barely came up at Tuesday’s commission meeting, the first since Wick’s return from a forced hiatus most lake observers believe came under political pressure from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office.
Wick is popular and credited with leading the commission’s efforts to inspect boats to keep invasive species out the lake. It was clear commissioners and the public were glad to see him again.
“Dave’s back, and the relationship is good, and we’re moving forward,” said Bruce E. Young, chairman of the commission. “He’s done a fabulous job.”
The pressure from Albany was initially for Wick’s removal from a job he has held since 2012. It caused commission members and various interest groups around the lake to rally to his support. Many spoke in his defense at the Nov. 25 commission meeting.
Neither Young nor Wick would comment on the investigation Tuesday.
The probe was launched through the governor’s office over allegations that Wick didn’t report a one-gallon gasoline spill that occurred while a commission boat was being refueled at a state dock last summer. After Cuomo’s environmental adviser met with the commission behind closed doors in mid-November, the commissioners refused to fire him, but Wick was placed on paid administrative leave.
Then, on Nov. 25, the state Inspector General’s office issued a report accusing Wick of an ethics violation for helping to organize a retirement party for an outgoing commissioner in September. Commissioner Tom Conerty worked for the Lake George Steamboat Co., and the company donated a 31⁄2-hour evening cruise and later an open bar for the party. That was an improper gift, Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott found, because the commission regulates the steamboat company.
The inspector general’s finding led to Wick’s two-week unpaid suspension. He returned to work last Wednesday.
“We have a very good staff and we really didn’t fall behind on anything,” Young said.
Wick is widely credited with last summer’s successful launch of the new mandatory boat inspection program at Lake George, an effort to keep additional aquatic invasive species from getting into the internationally renowned recreational lake.
“He’s done a wonderful job. A lot of people could not have pulled off what he pulled off,” said Queensbury town Supervisor John Strough, the only person to speak during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s monthly meeting at the Fort William Henry Hotel and Conference Center.
“I just wanted to welcome David back. It’s great to see him back,” Strough said to loud applause.
Wick, while declining to discuss the investigation, was glad to talk after the meeting about the planning for next year’s boat inspection program.
Over this past boating season, commission inspectors had around 20,000 contacts with boaters, with nearly all boats going through inspections. About 12 percent then went through a hot-water decontamination washing because of the possibility that they carried invasives from other bodies of water.
Wick said the program cost just under $600,000, bringing it in below the $700,000 budget. With knowledge gained last summer, he said the commission should be able to reduce staffing at some launch sites during some hours, possibly saving another $50,000.
“We’ll be a little more cost-efficient and still provide the same level of service,” Wick said.
A final report on the 2014 inspection program is due in January.
The program, by all accounts, was well-received by boaters, who were not charged for either the inspections or washings. They will also not be charged in 2015, since $350,000 each from the state Environmental Protection Fund and the communities in the SAVE Lake George partnership will still be available.
How the program will be paid for after 2015 remains up in the air, however.
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Categories: Schenectady County