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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 14, 2011

AG looks for changes

By Zach Simeone

WESTERLO — A complaint to the New York State Attorney General’s office has spurred discussions of possibly rotating town highway workers into the transfer station.

“I know John Nevins, the highway superintendent, is definitely against it,” Supervisor Richard Rapp told The Enterprise. “He has his crew, and they do a damn good job.”

The highway department could not be reached by press time.

Towards the end of 2010, Councilman Jack Milner began pushing for reform at the transfer station. What followed were months of argumentative discussions at meetings on whether or not the town could be making more money through the sale of scrap metal, noting that Westerlo had been getting only a fraction of the revenue that the neighboring Hilltowns were getting in recent years, and figures from those towns’ records supported Milner’s statements.

Subsequently, the town amended its solid-waste law to allow the long-time practice of residents’ taking discarded goods for their own.

Milner later accused Charles Benninger, the town’s transfer station operator for nearly three decades, of selling the town’s scrap metal himself, and allowing his friends to do the same. (For the full story, go to www.AltamontEnterprise.com, and look under Hilltown archives for Feb. 3, 2011.)

Milner wanted to see new management at the transfer station, and from this came the idea of rotating town employees at the transfer station.

Last month, the town board stopped its investigation into Milner’s accusations. At the regular town board meeting last week, Attorney Aline Galgay told the crowd that, after the board voted to stop its investigation, an anonymous source sent a complaint to the attorney general’s office, explaining the situation and asking that the agency become involved. The attorney general’s office replied that there was no need for investigation on its part, she said, and instead asked that the town take steps to remedy the situation itself.

“From the attorney general’s perspective,” said Galgay, “they are looking at the town to continue with…changes to the employee handbook; training; the adoption of a code of ethics; adoption of, possibly, a board of ethics; and potential personnel modifications, based on the town board and highway superintendent’s meeting of the minds.”

The attorney general’s office declined to comment this week on its involvement.

Galgay said at the meeting that she was unaware of who contacted the attorney general’s office, but that the agency said it spoke with other town residents in addition to the complainant. Milner declined to comment this week on whether or not he was the complainant.

Now that these instructions have come down through the attorney general’s office, the town has less control over the situation, Galgay said at the meeting.

“At this point,” she said, “a lot of it has been taken out of the board’s hands.”

The mention of rotating staff got a rise out of the back rows of the audience, seated in the new town hall, formerly the Westerlo School.

“What are the changes to the personnel?” asked one woman.

Councilman R. Gregory Zeh replied that there had “not been many” discussions about changes, other than “possibly rotating personnel at the town through various areas” in executive session.

“What’s it have to do with the highway department?” the woman persisted. “Deal with the transfer station and leave us alone.”

Rapp said this week that, while the board may discuss this topic in the future, it is not likely that such changes will be made anytime soon.

“People are used to driving certain trucks certain routes, and you’d have to turn everything around,” said Rapp of rotating town jobs. “If anybody’s doing it, it wouldn’t be now.”

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