A 30-year state Department of Transportation employee said he was forced to retire rather than possibly be fired for speaking to a newspaper reporter without approval from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration.
Mike Fayette told the Adirondack Daily Enterprise that he was threatened with termination for talking to the newspaper for a story in which he praised the DOT’s handling of the remnants of Hurricane Irene.
William Duffy, DOT’s $95,000-a-year director of public information, declined to comment Wednesday to The Associated Press, saying it was a personnel matter.
Fayette, Essex County’s resident engineer since 2005, spoke to the paper for an article that was published Aug. 30 to mark one year since the storm badly damaged roads in Essex County and elsewhere in New York and Vermont. The reporter said he twice sought approval to interview Fayette from DOT spokeswoman Carol Breen — first on Aug. 21, then on Aug. 27 — but never heard from her.
Fayette started working for DOT in 1983. He became the department’s Essex County resident engineer in January 2005, overseeing road and bridge projects and all DOT maintenance personnel in the county.
A DOT administrative assistant said Wednesday that Breen couldn’t talk about the case and referred questions to Duffy.
Cuomo’s administration has earned a reputation for tightly controlling information and access to departmental public information officers.
Fayette said he agreed to talk to the newspaper for the Irene story because of some of the critical media coverage, including an Enterprise editorial, DOT received that summer over the repaving of state Route 86 between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid.
“I was afraid for the DOT,” he said. “I was worried that Carol had not gotten back to you. So I said, ‘OK, we’ll just talk.’ And we did.”
Fayette was ordered to Albany on Sept. 12 for “a disciplinary interrogation” at which, he said, he was shown an Aug. 28 email from Breen instructing him not to speak so that DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald could talk to the paper. The email came the day after Fayette talked to the paper.
DOT’s News Media Contact policy says approval of the agency’s public affairs office in Albany is required before talking to the press.
Fayette could have contested the charges at a disciplinary hearing, but on Dec. 3, the state said he could accept a demotion and transfer to Albany. He turned it down and retired at 55 effective Feb. 8.
Now, Fayette is seeking reinstatement.
“I also want my vacation time back that they forced me to burn up for something I didn’t do,” he said. “It certainly would be nice to have a letter of apology for putting me through this. I’m just looking for things wrong to me to be made right.”
The state said it will not consider reinstatement.