In two previous articles, 1) The Vote Was 'No' - Will The Result Be 'Yes'? and 2) ' I described the political meanderings of the Clarkstown Town Board as it sought to bring efficiencies to Town operations through consolidation of the Town's three garages into a single operation run by a Fleet Manager 'whispered' to be Dennis Malone. At the September 4, 2012 Board meeting Malone's appointment as Fleet Manager was approved with Councilwomen Hausner and Lasker absent. As Patch reported in its article :
The former mini trans supervisor is now responsible for overseeing the town’s mechanics and reports directly to the town board, not to Highway Superintendent Ballard. The position pays $93,637 annually. Council members Stephanie Hauser and Shirley Lasker were both absent from the meeting at which the vote was taken. to the pending appointment at the prior meeting and stated she thought it was illegal because it took away the highway superintendent’s authority to manage the department’s equipment. Malone will oversee the town’s mechanics who have been consolidated having previously worked separately for the town garage, mini trans bus and highway department.
The position of 'Fleet Manager' is a new one with a new title. The Town Board has not yet said it is eliminating Malone's previous position so it is listed as a town job which is presently vacant. In moving to this new position Malone, who is already a Town employee, will receive a $4,000 promotion reflecting his additional responsibilities.
I thought it would be useful to review in this article how we arrived at the point where a perfectly rational and fiscally sound proposal to consolidate the three Town garages under Malone became tangled in warped politics. The warped politics appear to now include a 'side-show' in which Frank Sparaco, a County Legislator and leader of the minority Republican Party, whose went to prison for while Chair of the Independence party, was given a (25 hours per week) in the Clarkstown Highway Department supposedly to handle telephone calls in inclement weather but perhaps really to insure that the Superintendent of Highways, Wayne Ballard, gets the Independence Party's endorsement next year. The situation appears to be moving to a possible lawsuit over the question of Malone's reporting relationship. Councilwoman Lasker said at the previous :
"Unfortunately a compromise that was in negotiations failed. That option would have had Dennis Malone, who currently runs the Mini Trans and is the expected candidate for fleet manager, work under Wayne Ballard (the Superintendent of Highways). Malone declined that possible resolution".
Let's begin here .....
Back in the summer of 2011 a proposed law was introduced by Councilman Borelli, at a Town Board meeting held on May 17, 2011 and it was passed by a unanimous vote of the Town Board at the June 14, 2011 meeting. Resolution No. 343-2011 was entitled:
"A local law to abolish the position of an elected Superintendent of Highways and replace it with an appointed Superintendent of Highways in the Town of Clarkstown"
The referendum on this law failed by a large margin, not because the voters didn't support garage consolidation, but because they feared that the elected position of Highway Superintendent would become a .
In a June 5, 2012 workshop meeting the subject of the consolidation of the three Town garages came up again and it was revealed in a somewhat heated exchange between Highways Superintendent Ballard, Councilman Borelli, and Supervisor Gromack that Ballard's opposition to the consolidation based on a presentation by him of his superior capabilities in managing the Highway garage was somewhat disengenuous. You see, Mr Ballard had apparently agreed with the Board prior to last year's election that if the 'appointed' position was for a six year term he would not oppose passage of the 2011 referendum and the elimination of his 'elective' position. The Board offered him a four year term. Ballard declined that offer.
This was quite a revealing exchange to me as it planted a seed of doubt in my mind that Ballard was acting in the public's best interest when opposing the garage consolidation. It struck me as duplicitous that he would throw in the towel so cavalierly on an elected office and agree to have the position converted to an appointed one so long as he could wring out six years of guaranteed employment instead of four. But I gave him a pass on this error of judgment because people saw him as independent and not controlled by any particular political faction. Being elected was the power he had to control his own destiny; he was the one in the driver's seat.
But all of that may be about to change and he who once 'pulled his own strings' and 'danced to his own tune' may now be required to play the after a fateful and woeful patronage appointment.
Let me explain .....
The support by many of Mr Ballard's actions as they pertain to the office of Superintendent of Highways crashed with his recent hiring of Rockland County Legislator and Republican minority leader, . Sparaco, who had fought pay raises for County employees and who had tried to eliminate the County's Youth Employment program, was gifted a $75,000 part time job (25 hours per week) as a "Constituent Representative" by Ballard - an action which precipitated a very strong condemnation from the Journal News in it's August 22nd, 2012 editorial. The Journal News pointed out that:
The Town of Clarkstown has a very bad track record in making outrageous patronage appointments stating bluntly that Clarkstown had put 'political clout' before all else in hiring of Frank Sparaco keeping alive the town’s penchant for hiring political operatives. Ballard, like Sparaco, is a Republican, but in Clarkstown, that is of little matter. The Democratic supervisor, Alex Gromack, has various party leaders in his employ, and election after election, he and Ballard have been cross-endorsed and rarely challenged.
What was particularly outrageous about this particular appointment is that 260 people applied to fill a position advertised to pay a salary “commensurate with experience". But they didn’t have the right connections according to the editor of the Journal News. Meanwhile, a person whose past work experience includes the operation of a tanning salon and a vending machine business, told the Journal News he was eager to help town residents with "road, drainage and other problems" and in a very revealing statement said: "there was nothing underhanded about his appointment" adding in a further strange elaboration: “there was absolutely no 'quid pro quo' - what is it that I have that Wayne wants?”
Well, Mr. Sparaco, since you asked the question, may I suggest that you read the Journal News' editorial?
Speaking to the Town Board at its August 21, 2012 meeting about a House of Horrors meeting attended by Sparaco and the whole of the Clarkstown Town Board including the Town Attorney and the Town Clerk, Guy Gervasi, President of the Clarkstown Taxpayers stated:
On top of all this political cronyism from the Town Board, we now find out that Mr. Ballard is no better in hiring Mr. Sparaco to be the 'Constituent Service Representative' at an annual salary of $75,000/yr for what was supposed to be a part time job. Mr. Ballard, Mr. Sparaco and you guys on the Town Board must think that the Clarkstown people are all fools and maybe they are fools for voting for you. You should be all ashamed of yourselves, but I am sure that the emotion of shame was lost when you became career politicians. This blatant example of cronyism in politics is the kind of underhanded dealings that is the main reason why are needed desperately in Clarkstown. Supervisor Gromack, Councilpersons Borelli, Hausner and Lasker, Mr. Ballard and Legislator Sparaco I have to say that you guys truly disgust me by your backroom political shenanigans.
Mr Gervasi's comments were followed by prolonged applause and cheering.
Given Ballard's willingness to sacrifice an elective position to his own personal agenda, and to hire a person who can possibly supply him with the Independence party line in the 2013 election, I was curious to learn a little bit more about the candidate, Dennis Malone, who opposed him in the last election for Superintendent of Highways and who could possibly challenge him again in 2013. In the 2011 election Malone ran solely on the Democratic Party Line; Ballard, on the other hand, ran on the Republican Party Line, the Conservative line (controlled by Ed Lettre whom Ballard has referred to in a Town Worksop meeting as "Uncle Ed"), and the Independence Line (believed to be controlled by Frank Sparaco to whom Ballard has now provided a $75,000 part-time job).
Accordingly, I approached Mr. Malone at one of the Town Board meetings and asked him if he would be willing to tell me his story as to why he felt that he is the best person to manage the Highway Department's vehicles and equipment. Mr. Malone said that he had enjoyed reading the previous articles that I had written on the subject of the garage consolidation. However, he felt that I hadn't quite captured the person who he is and the experience that he brings from a life of hard work and dedication to garage operations. He added that he would be willing to share his side of the story.
And so over email exchanges and a cup of coffee this is what I learned .....
Malone was born in the Bronx and lost his father to cancer when he was 5 years old. He and his brother were raised by his mother whose only income came from Social Security. He started working in the auto/truck business early in his life and while still in high school he secured a full time job becoming an expert in auto repair by age 18.
His next experience was to join the largest Exxon/repair shop on the East Coast and in 1975 he married his childhood sweetheart and moved to Riverdale. By 1982 he was a part owner of Kingsdale Service Station which permitted him to invest in other businesses and real estate over the years. In 1980 he purchased his first house in which he still resides.
Malone told me he made many changes to Kingsdale over the years he worked there including adding a body and glass shop and getting full service at the pumps set up 24/7 . Sales quadrupled but in 1996 the majority partners of Kingsdale cashed out and he moved on to become the Service Manager at a large Nissan dealership which he left after one year. Malone offered that the reason for his departure was that he had become increasingly uncomfortable with the ethical behavior of the dealership management.
Having been successful in his business ventures Malone was not in need of a salary and took a job with the Town of Clarkstown in March of 1998 as a mechanic in the Mini Trans Garage. He agreed to do the job for $600 per week not for the money obviously, but to have interesting work with normal hours and no commute. This permitted him to get to spend more time with his 3 daughters who were then aged 16, 14, and 10 and with whom he had spent very little time in the past because of his long working hours.
Concerning his work approach to his present Town position Malone summed it up with one statement: "Wow this needs to be fixed!" In 2,000 he took the Assistant Transportation Supervisors exam and was appointed to that position. By 2003 when the then supervisor retired he took over. According to Malone, new buses were to be purchased in late 2003 but he changed the type from "transit style" buses which cost $140,000.00 to "Ford cutaway 20 passenger diesels" at a cost of $53,000 each. Seven of these were purchased for a savings of $600,000. The new style buses reportedly used 25,000 gallons less fuel per year.
2004 saw Malone become the Transportation Supervisor and that is the time when he felt that he started to be able to change many things and to begin to run the mini trans system like a commercial business. Malone states that before he took over most of large work was outsourced at great expense to the taxpayers. Today outsourcing has been eliminated and this has taken a $50,000 yearly line out of the budget. The parts line went from $70,000 in 2004 to $30,000 in 2012 because, Malone says proudly: "We spend the money like it is our own!"
Malone informed me that the new less expensive buses have an expected lifespan of 3 years or 150,000 miles and by 2006 he would have been expected to have bought 7 new buses for a cost to the Town of $371,000. But because of a rigorous service schedule which was put into place the Town was able to continue to operate the buses into 2009 and rack up 300,000 miles on each one.
Clearly showing imagination in his thinking and business management skills Malone explained how in 2009 new buses were obviously needed but he got around that by going to Trips which operates the same size of bus. Trips get rid of their fleet once they reach an age of 3 years or attain 150,000 miles. Malone took these surplus buses with 150,000 miles on them, refurbished them and put them back into service for the Town saving another $371,000.
But what about the future? Won't Malone have to buy new buses soon? Malone's response is that he has acquired four new buses through grants which will help him in his quest to avoid having to purchase any new buses in 2012.
And so with the Mini Trans running so well the seeds of the garage consolidation proposal were sown and Supervisor Gromack apparently asked Malone in 2009 to evaluate the Highway Department which brings us to the political and administration problems that arose and which I described in my two previous articles.
In a nutshell, Malone's evaluation of Ballard's Highway Department's operations was not complimentary and questions were raised about Ballard's skills in managing both the people who repaired the Highway equipment and Ballard's specific knowledge of truck repair. A 'battle of consultants' ensued with Ballard claiming he knew best how to run the Highway garage and others saying that he didn't.
And that brings the story to the point where I began writing the articles The Vote Was 'No' - Will The Result Be 'Yes'? and '.
Now we wait to see the outcome. The Town of Clarkstown may face legal action from the Rockland County Highway Superintendents and/or the NYS Town Highway Superintendents since the precedent set by the Clarkstown Town Board's vote has ramifications all over the State as to how the duties and powers of the elective office of Superintendent of Highways is to be defined. Councilwoman Lasker the formation of the Fleet Manager position saying:
"The reason for my voting 'no' is I have had extensive discussions with the Association of Towns Attorneys. I believe this is illegal and I think it is going to be overturned in court."
Meanwhile, Mr. Malone waits quietly in the wings of this drama with clearly demonstrated capabilities to help the residents of the town with its "road problems".
Ballard said about his hiring of Sparaco: “If I lose an election, he (Sparaco) loses his job” which succintly answered Sparaco's question: "What is it that I have that Wayne wants?”
Now that we apparently know "what Wayne wants" perhaps in the 2013 election the voters might decide if this is a patronage appointment that they want to retain. Two hundred and sixty citizens who applied for this 'part-time' job in good faith will presumably be the first in line to vote. In the 2011 election the relatively unknown Malone, running on a single party line, obtained 46% of the vote losing to Ballard, who ran on multiple party lines including the one allegedly controlled by his new employee, Sparaco.
Those 260 citizens, with their friends and families, are a swing vote that may change everything in the Town of Clarkstown's Highway Department.
Michael N. Hull is a member of the Clarkstown Taxpayers Group the goals of which are to reduce local taxes and local government expenses and make local government and local public officials more responsible and accountable to the citizenry.