By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO December 13, 2005 Former Sullivan County Department of Public Works Deputy Commissioner Phil Nicoletti has officially been dismissed from his job.
DPW Commissioner Robert Meyer made his decision in a letter written Thursday. It follows several months of hearings in public on an alleged misconduct and theft case involving Nicoletti, suspended Parks and Recreation Director Richard Caraluzzo, retired DPW Commissioner Peter Lilholt and DPW Chief Fiscal Officer Amy Winters who has yet to be charged.
In Meyers decision, he said he found a pattern of behavior that is inconsistent with the trust and responsibility placed in a person in the uppermost level of responsibility within the division.
Nicoletti was put on paid leave in February at the same time that Lilholt retired. Both are now facing criminal charges brought by Sullivan County District Attorney Stephen Lungen, including felonies such as grand larceny, falsifying business records and defrauding the government.
Nicoletti has been accused of participating in two break-ins at the countys personnel office, in which confidential files on county employees were taken and photocopied. In addition, confidential interviews with department employees about the workplace environment were also taken.
The documents were taken following a study by the county into raising the pay of its employees based on education levels and an investigation into a complaint by a former employee about a hostile work environment.
Nicoletti was also charged with purchasing parts washers and power washers with county money and then stealing them. The county alleged that he created a hostile work environment, attempting to extort County Legislator Kathleen LaBuda with threats and trying to obstruct a county investigation.
Jonathan Lovett, who is representing Nicoletti, Caraluzzo and Winters, said he would appeal the decision in New York State Supreme Court.
It is their second mistake, he said of the county. They are going to lose big in court.
He said the countys case had multiple errors, including allegedly appointing labor relations consultant Michael Wittenberg illegally to oversee the hearings. Wittenberg was hired by former Sullivan County Manager Dan Briggs, who was also acting as head of the DPW. But Briggs was never officially appointed to the DPW post, and only the acting commissioner could appoint Wittenberg, said Lovett.
He also said that allegedly false testimony during the hearings would hurt the countys case.
Sullivan County Legislature Chairman Chris Cunningham released a statement in which he said, The Sullivan County Legislature has taken and continues to take the position that everyone who works in county government must be accountable for their actions. The vast majority of county workers are honest, hardworking and dedicated employees, and the bad behavior of a few should not sully the reputation of the many. This decision shows the commitment of Sullivan County to a policy of zero tolerance for the type of behavior that has been exposed in the current DPW investigation.