Penny Out, Town Seeks New Nature Boss

    East Hampton Town’s longtime director of natural resources, Larry Penny, confirmed reports this week that he has been absent from the department’s offices for several weeks, ever since town officials announced they had dropped 16 disciplinary charges against him and said he planned to retire.
 “I’m not free to talk about the situation,” Mr. Penny said. He referred further questions to his attorney, Thomas Horn, who, in turn, said on Tuesday that he was limited in what he could say. “A more normal schedule and round of duties will be taking place,” Mr. Horn said.
    According to the town attorney, John Jilnicki, Mr. Penny “is working on special projects outside the office and in, as needed.”  Mr. Jilnicki said Tuesday that Mr. Penny, whose annual salary is $95,910, remains on the town payroll and had not yet submitted formal retirement papers. Mr. Horn verified that was the case.
    The natural resources director was suspended for 30 days without pay on Dec. 7, and presented with a lengthy list of complaints, including misconduct, incompetence, and insubordination. A document detailing the charges included a failure to oversee his employees and the department’s financial matters and a lack of oversight of work done under environmental permits. It also cited a collection of animal remains in a basement freezer beneath the natural resources offices, which Mr. Penny  previously had been ordered to dispose of.
    Town officials’ sudden reversal of that hard line was left largely unexplained. “Now, after frank discussion between both sides, the town board believes it is in the best interest of everyone to close the matter,” a press release in January said. In the release, Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson complimented Mr. Penny, saying, “His efforts to preserve the natural resources of the town have had a direct impact on the quality of life of the residents of the town.” 
    Meanwhile, East Hampton Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione, the town board’s liaison to the Natural Resources Department, said that candidates for Mr. Penny’s position were being interviewed. Officials also appear to be making new plans for the future of the department.
    Speaking to Diane McNally, the clerk of the East Hampton Town Trustees, at a board meeting last Thursday night, Councilman Stanzione said that, with changes in the department, he looked forward to renewed cooperation and accomplishments with the trustees. He declined to elaborate this week.