The Whitehall town board is not asking highway superintendent Brian Rozell to be at the next meeting on Nov. 6.
They are demanding it.
The board moved to send a certified letter to Rozell, who has been absent from the past two meetings, informing him that he be on-hand for the Nov. 6 town board meeting to discuss concerns which have come up as a result of the Washington County Sheriffs Department’s investigation into the use of town fuel.
“We should send him a certified letter with a request for response,” said town councilman Farrell Prefountaine. “I think that we ought to sit down with him one more time and clear the air.”
Rozell has not attended either of the two town board meetings, primarily budget workshops, since the investigation report came out. Attempts to contact Rozell by phone were unsuccessful.
Town supervisor Vernon Scribner said that he would like to talk with Rozell before going any farther on the matter.
“I have two thoughts,” he said. “One is to continue the investigation and the other is to call him in and talk to him, probably in an executive session. It does warrant brining him in and reading him the riot act.”
“I think we should do that and ask him the particular questions we want answered,” said Prefountaine. “Then go from there.”
Town councilman David Waters, who contacted the sheriff’s department concerning the alleged misuse of fuel at the town garage, said that he wanted further investigation to be conducted.
“I don’t know what the board wants,” said Waters. “But I say lets get it back in the sheriff’s hands and also start an audit of the situation. This got sent back to the town board for handling, and that would be my recommendation.”
Waters said that he had looked over the fuel reports since 2005, and in that time fuel usage increased annually.
“Since 2004, we have received 14,748 gallons of fuel oil,” said Waters. “If you go an estimate how much the trucks use and the other equipment would use, the estimated use for that period would have been 8,256 gallons. That means that there is 6,492 gallons since 2004 that’s gone, costing the taxpayers almost $20,000.”
Waters said that both the highway superintendent and town employee Robert Putorti should have put in mileage slips when they used their personal vehicles for town purposes and not taken gasoline.
“The procedure for all town employees is to put in a mileage slip and be compensated that way,” said Waters. “You have a case here where the police did an investigation and have the testimony of two town employees that have used town fuel.”
“One is a town employee, but the other is an elected official,” said Scribner. “The policies we have right now are for town employees, but do not say that they are for elected officials.”
“There’s nothing in the town rules that says they can go and take the fuel,” responded Waters. “I, as a board member and a taxpayer, think that he is stealing. It’s robbery in the first degree.”
Waters also said that he had concerns over the amount of time that Rozell was putting in as the highway superintendent.
“He came to us in an executive session and said that he would work as a full time employee,” said Waters. “He has not done that.”
“If he enters into an agreement to work full time, then he should work full time,” said supervisor clerk Kandi Bruce.
Jiem Rozell, who is running for the vacant town council seat and currently serves as the village highway foreman, said that while the town could request that their highway superintendent work full time, the position was not a full time job.
“You can’t, as an elected official, be a full time employee,” he said. “I asked in the village because I wanted to make the position elected, but they said that I could not be the working foreman if the position was an elected one.”
Scribner said that he was not pleased to hear that the town garage was not keeping any records on what was being done when the investigation first started.
“I was upset that he did not keep any kind of log book,” said Scribner. “You should keep track of anything that you have done. It doesn’t have to be a bible, but is has to be something.”
The board moved that a new procedure for logging highway department activities be enacted under the direction of Prefountaine.
“Our neighbors, the state an the county do things this way,” said Scribner. “We should have been doing it and we should start doing it now.”
Waters asked that the board move to continue a criminal investigation and also to ask for the resignation of Rozell, but both matters were not seconded by other board members and died.
“You don’t have the hard core information that you need to go further,” said Scribner. “You have done a good job on this report, but if you had given this to the investigator before everything, they would have had a bigger investigation with more things to report on.”
Waters said that he felt there would be a different conclusion reached by the sheriff’s department and the Washington County District Attorney, who both said there was not enough evidence to file criminal charges in the first report, if the investigation continued.
“I personally think that there’s a good chance that they change their mind on this,” he said.
The town board also moved to begin writing a new personnel police manual, which would state that all employees and elected officials were to follow the procedures of reporting mileage. When asked, Waters said that he did not want to write the report because he was more concerned with the investigation and he thought the current policies were already solid.
“I believe that we have a policy that covers all town employees,” said Waters. “When they are going places for the town, elected or not, they are acting as town smployees.”