Ward Stone lived at the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Wildlife Resource Center in Delmar, took the agency’s vehicles for his own use and even fed his pet chickens on the taxpayer’s dime, according to a report released by New York’s Inspector General.
The retired wildlife pathologist repeatedly refused to abide by agency policies, failed to submit years of time sheets and sometimes belittled his subordinates to a point where his remarks damaged morale, according to the 38-page report released Monday. Still, top DEC officials either downplayed or ignored more than a decade of complaints against Stone out of concern that a public outcry could develop over an attempt to discipline him.
Former DEC Commissioner Alexander “Pete” Grannis cited Stone’s ability to “marshal press attention” to justify a management decision to refrain from disciplining the wildlife pathologist for failing to comply with agency policy. Former Assistant Commissioner Christopher Amato described Stone as “a lone wolf” and “a bit of a renegade” who spoke candidly to the media, despite the discomfort it caused others in his agency.
“Indeed, at critical points, DEC executive management intervened to thwart attempts to discipline Stone,” Inspector General Ellen Biben stated in the report. “DEC executive management’s reluctance to act appears to have been driven, at least in part, by fears about a negative reaction in the news media which had long supported Stone.”
The report accuses Stone of receiving the equivalent value of $28,887 to $43,316 in housing for the time he lived at the center from 2001 to 2009.
The agency based this figure on after surveying single-bedroom apartment rentals in Albany County that were advertised in a local newspaper over that same period of time and applying that figure to the amount of time Stone reported living at the facility.
“Additionally, Stone for years kept personally owned animals, including chickens, at the Wildlife Resource Center, at state expense,” Biben stated in the report. “Stone’s supervisor estimated that the feeding and care of the chickens alone cost DEC more than $12,400.”
But the report also shines a light on the bureaucracy of the DEC. For instance, it mentions that Stone was reprimanded for talking to the media without seeking proper agency permission in 1996 and then faults him for defying DEC’s written memorandum by again talking to a reporter the following week.
The report doesn’t make any specific recommendations, but suggested Stone may have violated the state Public Officers Law. The report was forwarded to the DEC and the state Attorney General’s Office for “review and appropriate action.”
Lewis Oliver, Stone’s attorney, said Stone wasn’t available for comment because he suffered a stroke in December and is now hospitalized in Massachusetts. He blasted the report as reflecting the attitude of “petty bureaucrats” jealous of his client’s contributions to protecting the environment.
“When citizens had problems with the environment involving contaminants and toxins, Dr. Stone always responded to them promptly and with vigor, which is something DEC as an organization never did,” he said. “These mid-level bureaucrats are jealous of the contributions that he made and the recognition he received, which was well deserved.”
In an interview with the Associated Press on Monday, the 73-year-old Stone said his environmental work over his 40-year career, identifying hazards like industrial PCBs flowing into the St. Lawrence River and the Mohawks’ Akwesasne Reservation, speaks for itself.
He said subordinates bullied him with the support of certain higher-ups.
“I discovered a lot of things that needed to get done that the DEC was not doing, Akwesasne being one of them,” Stone said, acknowledging he hadn’t seen the report.
Biben said Stone’s record as a pathologist is irrelevant. She said Stone should have been held to the same standards as any other state worker.
“Regardless of their accomplishments or stature, no state employee is above the law,” she said in a statement. “The integrity of state agencies and their disciplinary processes requires that all employees be held equally accountable to abide by the law and agency policies.”
The DEC advanced a disciplinary action against Stone for not submitting five months of mileage reports and 66 biweekly time sheets between October 2007 and April 2010.
The agency initially sought $6,393 in restitution, Stone’s retirement and a completion of the time records.
Stone, who earned $83,000 annually, later agreed to pay $1,565 for his unauthorized use of a state vehicle. He quietly retired after 41 years on the job in September 2010.
A spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office declined to comment. Emily DeSantis, a spokeswoman for the DEC, said the agency has made changes to avert any similar cases that might arise in the future.
“DEC has taken steps to ensure allegations of employee misconduct are fully investigated and appropriate action is taken so the mistakes of the past are not repeated in the future,” she said in a statement. “This type of behavior will not be tolerated at DEC.”