Riverhead highway workers say they didn’t ‘out’ colleague

Three of four Riverhead Town highway workers cleared of wrongdoing in an on-the-job incident in which a town truck was damaged last year say they didn’t “roll over” on a co-worker against whom the town is now pursuing disciplinary action.

The Riverhead Town Board authorized disciplinary action last June against five highway crew members — pending a hearing — after a town highway truck’s tires were damaged by someone gassing the truck hard and spinning them on the pavement. One tire had to be replaced, one of the workers said.

The board was seeking 30-day suspensions without pay for all workers.

But on Feb. 22, the board rescinded that resolution and approved another one, this time seeking a 30-day suspension against just one employee. The resolutions didn’t mention names.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the crewmen said they took exception to Councilman Jim Wooten’s comments in the News-Review that the four employees “finally rolled over” by outing the driver allegedly responsible for spinning the tires. The employees said they did not out the truck’s driver, nor did they see what happened with the trucks. They were all suspended only because they were all in the same crew that day, they said.

Matt Hattorff, head of the local Civil Service Employees Association, the union to which most town employees belong, told the News-Review last month that the town didn’t have enough evidence to make the charges stick against the other employees, and that he’s glad they were cleared.

But the three cleared employees interviewed this week said they were suspended 30 days without pay and that there wasn’t even a hearing. The cleared employees — four in all — will be reimbursed for the month’s pay they lost and the charges will be taken off their records, both the men and a town official said. The workers said they aren’t sure why they were cleared, but they suspect their colleague may have admitted to being the driver.

The town will also seek another 30-day suspension against the other employee, officials confirmed.

It could not be confirmed whether that employee also has been suspended with pay for eight months since the incident, as the News-Review had been told. Supervisor Sean Walter referred that question to highway superintendent George Woodson, who in turn said only that the Town Board determined the punishments.

Mr. Hattorff confirmed this week that the four employees will be reimbursed, but said he couldn’t comment on the other employee because that issue is pending. That employee could not be reached for comment.

“All this was because of a $75 tire,” one of the workers said.

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