Last week we published a story about a fuel use issue in the Town of Lewiston that was connected to the town board's termination, in executive session, of storm water manager Glen Caverly.
Caverly was originally appointed by the board on February 28, 2011.
Last week, several board members said Caverly's position was "eliminated" in an effort to save money.
If that's the case, however, it would make the executive session an illegal meeting.
There are legitimate reasons under "sunshine laws" where a municipal legislative body can meet behind closed doors.
Those reasons, however, do not include cost cutting, a process which is supposed to be open to the public.
Councilman Ron Winkley was more candid when he said it was "a personnel matter," which would be a reason to exclude the public from the discussion period.
Transparency after the fact, however, requires disclosure that the employee was terminated for cause.
The Caverly matter is reminiscent of the board's decision not to share with citizens information regarding the discipline of two Lewiston cops caught stealing fuel.
It was the Reporter that made public the names of the two policemen, when the town board did not.
The board cited a non-disclosure agreement, part of a settlement they reached with the police union, as the reason it could not disclose the names of the policemen or the fact that they had stolen town fuel.
But Caverly is not a union member.
It is abundantly clear that Caverly was terminated because of an unconventional arrangement he had with the town for diesel fuel usage for his personal vehicle.
Caverly would help himself to fuel at Joe Davis Park - entirely on the honor system - without the requirement to report to anyone.
He had control of the ordering of town fuel to fill a 1000 gallon diesel tank and was the only one who had a key to the tank.
Caverly not only had a Ford F-350 diesel pickup, but, on the flat bed on the back, he had a 100 gallon auxiliary fuel tank with a nozzle that in effect allowed him to take 100 gallons at a clip out of Joe Davis Park and pump it anywhere he liked.
Caverly has a diesel-powered bulldozer that he rents out for private use.
This newspaper received a letter signed by former Supervisor Steve Reiter, sent to Caverly, dated Dec. 12, 2012, that states "as part of your employment agreement with the town of Lewiston you will use your own personal vehicle and your home computer in the conduct of town business."
While the letter indicates the use of his truck is part of his employment arrangements, it makes no mention of additional compensation - including use of town fuel.
In addition, the letter was written almost two years after Caverly began working for the town and long after the fuel deliveries began at Joe Davis Park.
Caverly explained the reason for the letter as, "I needed it for my tax returns."
In describing his informal arrangement, Caverly is taking the same stance Reiter did when accused of taking gasoline improperly, saying he was "saving the town money" by taking fuel instead of billing for mileage at the authorized 56 cents per mile.
|It is peculiar: Lewiston allowed one of its employees to have unrecorded, unmonitored use of diesel, and he happened to have a 100 gallon auxiliary tank which means he could take diesel and pump it anywhere. Even if he is innocent, the fact of it being permitted is a stupendous example of lack of oversight.....
The cost savings, however, do not add up. The parks department has a fleet of gasoline-powered smaller trucks. One would have been available to Caverly.
Why wasn't Caverly instructed to use one of these instead of his own super-duty, diesel pickup truck that he said gets only 12.5 miles to the gallon?
Additionally, Caverly's claim to have driven 15,000 miles per year on town business seems excessive.
He would have to average 60 miles of driving every work day.
Caverly, however, said he wasn't just burning town fuel for town business, but that he was using Lewiston fuel on behalf of the Town of Porter.
Through an arrangement between the Towns of Lewiston and Porter, 70 percent of Caverly's wages were paid by Lewiston and 30 percent by Porter, as the two towns agreed to share his storm water management services.
"I drive and checked on the storm water systems for both Lewiston and Porter," said Caverly, "which means I inspect every catch basin, every storm sewer manhole, every pipeline, ditch, creek and stream in both towns every time it rains. I am the only guy on the face of the earth that has walked every foot of drainage in both Lewiston and Porter. Under state mandate, every time there is a half an inch of rain everything has to be checked. When I drive between the towns of Lewiston and Porter, I drive 150 miles. If it rains on Monday I check. If it rains on Wednesday I go again. I did my job."
There are 108 miles of road in Lewiston, according to Town Highway Supt. Doug Janese, and an estimated 80 miles of roads in Porter.
Since there were no records indicating the amount of diesel used, no accounting, no daily log, only Caverly will likely ever know if personal fuel was improperly siphoned from the town's fuel tank at Joe Davis, or if he drove every mile throughout two towns in performance of his duties.
In this murky, unlucky arrangement, that seems to have had the tacit blessings of Reiter - and the rubber stamp of his town board - who signed off monthly on fuel bills from NOCO for Joe Davis Park, another issue crops up: Why were the Town of Lewiston taxpayers paying for fuel for Caverly's truck when he was inspecting drainage in the Town of Porter?
Upon further analysis, another question arises: What started as a part-time job for Caverly, whereby the Town of Porter paid 30 percent of Caverly's salary as storm water manager, morphed into a full-time job where Caverly worked mostly at Lewiston's parks, maintaining the parks, especially Joe Davis, and working only part-time inspecting storm water.
By 2012, the Town of Porter was paying 30 percent of Caverly's $60,000 (with benefits) salary as their storm water manager, while Caverly was spending most of his time in the recreation department for the Town of Lewiston.
In effect, Lewiston taxpayers paid for Caverly's fuel for Porter's storm water, while Porter taxpayers paid part of Caverly's salary for his work on Lewiston town parks.
As for his answer to what prompted this imbroglio in the first place, part of Caverly's explanation makes little sense.
The New York State Comptroller's auditor, Amy Doores, recently raised a red flag over diesel fuel used between November, 2013 and March, 2014 at Joe Davis Park, since the lawn cutting season was over.
Caverly said the fuel use was for the diesel generator that powered the ice rink at Academy Park.
However the rink wasn't using diesel fuel last winter since new electric power lines were installed in the summer of 2013 at Academy Park, thus eliminating the need for diesel generators.
Meantime, a clouds hangs over Caverly.
He has filed a FOIL request with the town clerk, Donna Garfinkel, for all documents related to his employment with the town, something often done when someone is preparing to file a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Referring to the town board, Caverly said, "These people just do what they want. They do it behind closed doors so they can hide it. All these meetings to question me: the supervisor, the state comptroller's office, the state police, all questioning me and nobody comes up with any wrongdoing. Then the board has an executive session and fires me. So what is it? Am I a target of suspected fuel theft? If so, say so, and prove it! Or is it a cost- cutting measure?"
Caverly said if the town was trying to save money it would not have hired an outside employee for the sewer department, a new parks department employee, changed a part-time employee in the building department to full time, and created a brand new position of budget director.
"I did my job as instructed and I was the fall guy for the sloppy way the town handled fuel usage. I was thrown under the bus. My name under a cloud," said Caverly. "Don't be surprised if I fight back."
Caverly further pointed out how "[m]ore than 200 people came up to me after the Reporter story broke last week, saying I was getting screwed. I can't tell you how many said the same thing."
In the meantime, sources say that Caverly has not been accused and that the State Police have no plans to charge him with wrongdoing.
Ironically, in 2011, the same state comptroller auditor, Doores, helped author a report alleging fuel usage in the Town of Lewiston was being mismanaged, improperly monitored and possibly stolen.
Since then, somehow, the town board, led by Steve Reiter, managed to arrange to provide a man, who has a mobile fuel tank on the back of his truck, with complete and total control of a 1000 gallon diesel tank, where he could order as much diesel as he liked, use as much as he wants, and never account for any of it.
Until the day the State Comptroller's Office re-audited the fuel usage and found that fuel had been unaccounted for, nobody at the town did a thing and no one will admit to being anything more than tangentially aware of Caverly's "help yourself" fuel usage.
|The super duty Ford F-350.