L to E:  When “experience” becomes “baggage,” it’s time to vote for a new way forward

November 1, 2013
by Robin Murphy

I started attending Town Board meetings and work sessions on a regular basis a few years ago and, based on the information gleaned there and in town, I feel strongly that the Democrats’ one-party control has caused problems for our town.

I have been a resident of New Castle on and off since 1990 and I am concerned for the direction that New Castle has been heading.  Good governance, i.e., the management of government in a manner that is essentially free of abuse and corruption, and with due regard for the rule of law, is very important to me. 

Chappaqua Crossing and Chappaqua Station (or Conifer) are certainly issues that show the problems that one-party control causes, but another that is not regularly talked about is the Town Board’s lack of oversight regarding the activities in Town Hall including those of our Town Administrator and candidate for Town Supervisor, Penny Paderewski.

Deciding to write this letter has not been easy for me for several reasons including some level of concern of personal retaliation along with the fact that Penny and I have always been cordial with one another.  I’m also a bit worried that many people just accept a certain level of less-than-ethical behavior in government and my information won’t raise even an eyebrow.

Nevertheless, after a recent conversation I had with a neighbor who is a member of the Democratic Committee, it became clear that I should.  He knew that I had switched my support from Penny to Rob Greenstein and suggested that I reconsider “because Penny knows where the skeletons are buried.”  He and I clearly have different concepts of what is good for our town.  Rather than go on covering up, I choose to vote for someone who will clean up the past messes so we can start fresh.

Anti-Semitic Harassment in Town Hall

As background, I have known Penny through her position in Town Government for about 3 years.  She has always been friendly and approachable when I’ve had questions. I first made Penny’s acquaintance when I had concerns about the actions by a Town employee, Mike Molnar (who has been accused of anti-Semitic harassment of f fellow employee) and the town’s questionable handling of him (he’s still employed) and the now-former employee who was harassed (who, after many years of good reviews was fired). 

Penny’s rendition of the incidents, which I read about in court documents, have never made sense to me.  In our very first conversation, she admitted that there had in fact been anti-Semitism in our Town work force, although, according to her, that was in the past. At the time, our town had two separate lawsuits against it claiming anti-Semitic harassment—and retribution when the employees complained.  And although Penny told me that the Town had conducted sensitivity training, I was disappointed to see that our Anti-Harassment Policy is boiler plate and only addresses harassment of subordinates, not harassment by peers. 

2011 Separation Incentive Program

In August 2011, two town DPW employees, one who worked for the town for 24 years and the other 27 years, accepted the incentive offered by the town to retire early: $20,000 cash ($1,000 for each year worked up to $20,000).  According to an article in NCNOW, the incentives were being offered in response to the recently enacted 2% tax cap and Penny is quoted as saying, “the whole purpose of the Town’s 2011 Separation Incentive Program is to allow employees to self-select to leave the Town’s work force.” 

It seemed odd to me that they would willingly take those relatively small monetary packages, when they would receive their full pension, medical benefits, etc. if they stayed in their jobs for just a few more years.

I personally spoke with one of them who told me he was forced out, told by the town that they “had something on him” and he was given the choice of either taking the package or getting fired and receiving nothing. 

He assured me that he didn’t know what damaging info they could have, and that the worst thing he ever received a warning for was taking a long break.  Still, out of fear, he accepted the package even though after spending his whole adult life working for the Town of New Castle he had no prospect of another job and couldn’t even afford health insurance.  The town wouldn’t even permit him to collect unemployment because they made him sign a form stating that he was resigning. 

Days later, when I saw Penny at a Millwood Task Force Meeting, I asked about this.  She confirmed that leaving was not their choice but did not respond when I asked if their being forced to leave was to protect the jobs of others, including her son and the child of one other town administrative staff member who had only been working for the town for a few years.  (It so happens that Penny’s son did get promoted within the past few months to this open position).

Nepotism

I’ve also spoken with Penny about her son working for the town.  One conversation with her was just after learning that while driving a town truck, he hit a passenger vehicle and left the scene of the accident.  Interestingly, the police report does not mention that it was a hit and run but Penny defended his actions to me by saying that that he hadn’t realized he had hit the car.  (If that is indeed the case, one might decide that driving town trucks is not the best position for him.)

She told me that working for the Town is not easy for her son.  Other workers, she said, give him a hard time because she’s his mother.  She also said that if her son didn’t work for her or her husband, he’d be the responsibility of the state to support.  She appealed to me that “as a good mother” I should understand this. 

While I appreciate her maternal instincts, as a resident of the town, I took and continue to take exception that her personal interests are New Castle’s liability.  If Penny’s son is a solid, responsible employee, perhaps she might consider introducing him to other town administrators or DPW commissioners who might hire him without compromising their town’s employee morale.  Of course, he may not get away with the kind of behavior he has participated on the job here, which includes getting into fights, damaging town equipment, spitting in other employees’ faces, posting messages on the wall questioning a co-worker’s sexuality, etc.

Personal use of town vehicle by a town worker

Going into this election, I’d known all that I’ve described above.  And while I did not believe that this was acceptable behavior, Penny is very likeable and at least regarding her son, I could rationalize that she really believes she is doing the right thing for him and is blinded to the ethical problems it causes the town and the morale problems it causes other employees.  Moreover, I could not think of anyone else who would be a better Supervisor candidate.  In fact, I even hoped that the New Castle Republican Committee might cross-endorse her.  When Rob Greenstein, who I knew from the Chappaqua-Millwood Chamber of Commerce got the Republican party endorsement, I didn’t expect that I would change my allegiance from Penny. 

But during the course of the summer, I learned about another incident that made me confront the realization that there is a critical lack of judgment in Town Hall that puts the Town of New Castle in jeopardy.

In early August I learned that, months before, an employee in the Department of Public Works had been given permission to use a Town-owned car for his personal use.  I was told that the Commissioner of Public Works, knew that the employee would be drinking while the car was in his possession. The employee returned the car back to the Town the following morning with damage and when someone asked if there was going to be a problem, the Commissioner said, “Not as long as nobody finds out.”

The idea that an employee drove our Town-owned car, possibly while intoxicated with the permission of a top manager, caused me grave concern.  I was under the impression that Penny didn’t know this story and sent her an email with the details of what I heard. From the first email on August 8th, a dialogue ensued over the next couple of weeks.

Date: Thu, Aug 8, 2013 6:29 PM
From: Robin Murphy
To: Penny Paderewski
Subject: Question

Hi Penny.  Is there a policy about staff taking town-owned vehicles home?
I heard a “bad” story about a case where that happened somewhat recently (a few months back).  Apparently there was damage to a vehicle.  As the story goes, Anthony Vaccaro was involved.  Are you aware of this?
Robin Murphy

Sent: Thu, Aug 8, 2013 6:50 pm
From: Penny Paderewski
To: Robin Murphy
Subject: Re: Question

Only two people take home town cars because they are on call 24 hours the Chief of Police and the Commissioner of Public Works.  You would have to be specific about what you heard.
Penny

Sent: Thursday, August 08, 2013 8:46 PM
From: Robin Murphy
To: Penny Paderewski
Subject: Re: Question

Just because Vaccaro is allowed, doesn’t mean he can let someone under him take one home, right?  As the story goes, Vaccaro let Martinez take a car home and it was brought back with damage (tire/fender/bumper).  When asked about it Vaccaro said something along the lines of it’s alright as long as nobody finds out.  I don’t know the date but it was supposedly several months ago.  Not that he or anyone is going to admit it.

How can we find out if this story is true or not?  Do you have records for auto repairs over the last, say, 9 months?

Sent: Thu, Aug 8, 2013 10:35 pm
From: Penny Paderewski
To: Robin Murphy
Subject: RE: Question

Hi Robin,

This matter was handled quite some time ago.  Whoever you found out about it
from probably did not hear that it was handled.  There are two types of
employees at DPW.  Those that are “punished” and run around and complain to
everyone about it and those that are “punished” take their medicine and keep it to themselves.  I guess this was the latter case.  I guess it bothered someone at DPW who had not heard that this this might not have been handled.  To that I say they should take care of their own business.  However, you may report to them that it was handled.  This is a personnel matter and personnel matters are always handled confidentially unless the employee(s) choose(s) to discuss with other personnel.  I hope this clears this up. I hope you and Iffy are still having a great time up there!  Hope to see you soon.

Penny

Sent: Wednesday, August 21, 2013 10:07 PM
From: Robin Murphy
To: Penny Paderewski
Subject: Re: Question

Penny, I had thought I sent you the following reply but just found it in my draft mail:

Thanks for getting back to me so quickly.

How long has the policy for staff to not take cars home been in place? I’m curious, who paid for the repairs for this “personnel matter”? 

How much money has been spent in the past year on the repair vehicles due to misuse?  As far as the punishment, was it just Martinez who was punished or the Commissioner of Public Works who allowed him to take the car home.  Are you aware of the story that Martinez was under the influence and Vaccaro knew.

Seems like the crew is rogue and it’s especially troubling considering the town has the liability

Robin Murphy

Sent: Thu, Aug 22, 2013 8:34 am
From: Penny Paderewski
To: ‘Robin Murphy’
Subject: RE: Question

Robin,
There is no policy that staff cannot take cars home.  Rather there are two people who do take cars home and I believe I told you who those are because they are on 24 hour call—Chief and the Commissioner.  However, there are times when others are authorized to use cars out of the Town confines.  If they go out of Town on Town business, e.g. Assessor’s school in Ithaca or Police officers go to training upstate.

I think I answered your other questions in my previous e-mail.

Penny Paderewski

Sent: Thursday, August 22, 2013 12:51 PM
From: Robin Murphy
To: Penny Paderewski
Subject: Re: Question

Penny,

I always appreciate your quick response.

Yes, I understand that the Police Chief and Commissioner of Public Works each have cars to take home regularly and I agree it makes sense for other staff to use cars when traveling out of town on business.  Please tell me if I was wrong in my understanding that Martinez was not using the car for business.  (You mentioned that there was punishment so I am inferring that you are acknowledging there was misuse of some kind.)

The questions that you have not answered are:
• Are you aware that the employee who took the car caused damage to it while under the influence?  Was there action taken (at least a write up) for any other employees involved including the person who allowed him to use the car.
• Who paid for the damages to the town vehicle?  If it was the town, which as a business owner with a fleet of cars I expect it is, how much did the damage cost to repair?
• How much money has been paid by taxpayers for damages caused by misuse?
Penny, I have consistently expressed to you my concern about the town liability for the actions of town workers as well as the cost of nepotism to the town.  I am troubled that this appears to be yet another similar situation that has been swept under the rug.

Robin Murphy


Sent: Thu, Aug 22, 2013 1:06 pm
From: Penny Paderewski
To: ‘Robin Murphy’ 
Subject: RE: Question

Robin,

I am not going to discuss personnel matters with the public.  What I will say is that under certain circumstances decisions are made to allow employees to take Town cars home.  For example, if an employee has to be at a business meeting very early the next morning or if an employees car is
broken down at work at the end of the day.  Employee cars have been damaged in storms while parked in the DPW lots or Town Hall lots and we have allowed them to borrow a Town car to get home and to deal with the repair the next day.  Exceptions are made from time to time. 

I understand your issues with nepotism.  You have made them more than clear.  I find it very disheartening that you continue to choose the same individuals over and over and don’t follow up on other employees that have also had incidents.  Nonetheless, I will not discuss personnel issues with any
of the public.

No situations are ever swept under the rug.  They are just not hung out as laundry as some people would like.  And I might add selective laundry.

Penny

When I sent the first email, I did think I was asking about a personnel issue – I thought her staff was acting irresponsibly without her knowledge. However, damage to town property is not a personnel issue and by the time I received the last email, I realized that my concern was a leadership issue. 

This email dialogue gave me grave concerns about the judgment in Town Hall.  Prior to this email exchange, I had been supporting Penny in the race for Town Supervisor but now I was stuck wondering who is looking out for the residents—who assume the liability and bills for all Town activities including reckless ones?  The fact that the town doesn’t have an actual policy about vehicle use is very disconcerting, especially given the giant liability they are for our town.  (I submitted a FOIL [Freedom of Information] request for “All reports of damage to town-owned vehicles including dates, details of damage, responsible party(ies), photos” for a one year period and was told that there is more than 3,000 pages of documentation for the time period I requested.) 

Given the potential liability to the town and its taxpayers, cars should not be there for any administrator or other managers to play “good boss” with.  They are owned by the people of New Castle, not to be used for favors.  Why would the town residents pay for the gas and assume the liability for an employee whose own car is not available?  If Penny or her manager wants to help an employee whose car broke down, they are more than welcome to give them a ride home. In this employee’s case, he has family who works for the town, and they could have been the one to give him a ride home.  We also have a train station right there.

Furthermore, the fact that Penny perceived my concern as singling out the same two employees instead of my concern for good stewardship of our town, employees and assets, troubled me.

To be clear, I sent her the information about this incident believing that she did not know about it.  The fact that she then defended what took place caught me off guard and completely called into question my trust in her leadership and accountability on behalf of the people who own these assets and pay the employees’ salaries, we residents.  Every competent manager knows that rules need to be clear—and followed—in order to allow you to enact discipline if they are broken.

The employees I have asked her about seem to be in a protective bubble and are costing our town.  While I don’t know of “other employees that have also had incidents,” I would welcome that information as well.  At the same time, Penny telling me that there are others, further undermines my confidence in her ability to manage the workforce and has me wondering, just what is going on there?

In the months that have passed, I have been more and more troubled by this information. I brought it up to Clinton Smith who acknowledged that he knew of the vehicle damage, if not the inebriation, and I spoke with Town Board member, Elise Mottel, as well as former Town Board Member and Town Board Candidate, Mike Wolfensohn, and Democratic Committee Chair, Jerry Curran.  All three of them told me that, while they did not know it is in fact taking place, they agreed in theory that personal use of Town cars should not be permitted.  But nobody seemed to be troubled enough by what I was telling them to pursue it.  I did reach out to Mike Wolfensohn about 10 days later to see if he had spoken with his fellow slate member, Penny.  He replied “I did and she didn’t know what I was talking about so I dropped the discussion.”  I offered to send Jerry Curran the email correspondence between Penny and me so he could see it for himself, but he declined. 

So, that leads me to ask: Just who is looking out for the taxpayers?  New Castle needs a clean, honest, Town government that does the right thing for the people who live and do business here as well as those who work for the Town.

One-party rule has taken its toll on our town and I am looking forward to casting my vote on Tuesday, November 5, for Rob Greenstein along with Lisa Katz, Adam Brodsky and Stu Miller.

I believe they will bring with them new leadership with diversity of opinion, a small business mindset, a commitment to transparency and accountability as well as a positive energy and community inclusiveness that have been lacking.

The Democrats have been running on their experience—but experience can also be baggage. It’s time to start fresh with Team New Castle.

 

Copyright 2019 NewCastleNOW.org