Scott King, the former East Hampton Town Highway Superintendent who lost his bid for re-election this fall to Stephen Lynch, says that a campaign sign with his name, posted along a road in Montauk in the fall, was run over and then, three days later, a sign in roughly the same spot was removed altogether by an employee of his own department, driving a town truck.
Mr. King said last week that he pursued disciplinary charges against the Highway Department employee who he says can be identified as the culprit, but that his effort was thwarted by the town board.
Video taken by cameras positioned along East Lake Drive in Montauk show a driver operating an East Hampton Town Highway Department truck on Oct. 14 pulling across the center line to drive alongside a sign, snatching it up, and then backing up for some distance in the lane of opposite traffic, faced with an oncoming car.
A series of still photographs from the same cameras several days earlier, on Oct. 11, show, from some distance, a Highway Department truck pulling up toward a sign, which in a later photograph appears to be under the vehicle’s wheel.
According to a Dec. 19 e-mail exchange between Town Councilwoman Theresa Quigley and John Jilnicki, the town attorney, the employee, Terry Nesbitt, was apparently “interviewed on charges” related to the incident. But Ms. Quigley wrote in the e-mail that “it was determined not to go forward with the accusations.” Mr. Nesbitt did not return a call for comment this week.
Mr. Jilnicki responded in an e-mail that Mr. King “was not pleased” that Vince Toomey, the town’s labor attorney, “was not authorized to prepare charges” against Mr. Nesbitt.
Under state Civil Service law, any department head or employee can seek charges against another by taking their accusation to the town’s Human Resources Department. Those involved, including the employee accused of wrongdoing and potential witnesses, are brought together for a fact-finding meeting, conducted by Human Resources staff or the labor attorney.
If the accusations are found to have some basis, a hearing on the charges is supposed to be scheduled, with a hearing officer appointed by the town board. Following the hearing, the hearing officer will issue recommendations to the town board, which can include, in certain cases, termination of employment or other disciplinary action.
The charges on which a hearing is to be held can be drafted with the help of a labor attorney, as is often the case in East Hampton, or without, by the town attorney, the Human Resources Department, or the complainants themselves.
Because Mr. Toomey, the labor attorney, is with an outside firm, the town board must authorize payment to him for his work. In this case, based on the text of the e-mail exchange, apparently the board declined to authorize payment to Mr. Toomey to prepare the charges against Mr. Nesbitt.
A request this week for comment by the supervisor and town board members on the situation went unanswered.
However, Mr. Jilnicki wrote in his e-mail to Ms. Quigley on Dec. 19 that Mr. King could have commenced the hearing process at that point, but that “the reality is . . . there is no way it could make any significant progress before the beginning of the term for the new highway superintendent.” He writes that he told Mr. King that what would happen to the proceeding then would be “within the control of the new superintendent.”
Over the last two years, Mr. King, a Democrat, has gone head-to-head with the Republican-majority board on several fronts, including opposing the majority’s decision to have his department end roadside leaf pickup.
He has also clashed with employees of his department, several of whom charged him with abuse and discrimination, which Mr. King denies.
In 2010, three employees complained to the town workers’ union of verbal abuse and one instance of physical violence. Two filed police reports, but did not press charges. As a result of a town investigation into the allegations, Mr. King was required to attend anger management classes. Earlier this year, two workers complained to the New York State Division of Human Rights that Mr. King had discriminated against them based on their ethnicity. An examination of the allegations resulted in a settlement of the charges this fall.
Mr. Nesbitt was not among those who made the allegations, which Mr. King characterized as a political bid to block his re-election, and a reaction against his attempt, as superintendent, to impose higher work standards.
The town code does not set forth specific regulations regarding political signs. State law prohibits a municipality from regulating signs based on their content, based on First Amendment rights.
According to the town code, “temporary signs” may be placed on public property as long as they do not cause a traffic hazard or interfere with the use of the property. The code says they may stay in place for no more than seven days.
In practice, however, Mr. Jilnicki said this week, campaign signs are allowed to remain in place throughout the election season.
Penalties for removing temporary signs are also not delineated in the town code, but Mr. Jilnicki said that someone who takes a sign belonging to someone else could presumably be charged with theft, based on the monetary value of the sign. No legal charges stemmed from either Montauk sign incident.