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Dec 7, 2011 1:02 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

East Hampton Town Natural Resources Director Larry Penny Suspended, Could Be Fired

Dec 13, 2011 6:22 PM

The East Hampton Town Board is seeking to fire Natural Resources Director Larry Penny, and took the first step toward that last Wednesday by suspending him for 30 days without pay.

That day, Town Attorney John Jilnicki leveled 16 charges of “misconduct,” “insubordination” and “incompetence” against Mr. Penny, related to his storage of animal carcasses in the basement of his office, his management of employees and department finances, and his oversight of tree and vegetation clearing projects. “Please be advised that the proposed penalty is termination,” Mr. Jilnicki wrote in the 10-page list of charges. Other punishments could be a demotion, a pay cut, a fine or a suspension. Mr. Penny has eight days to answer the charges and is entitled to a hearing.

“Oh, I think they’ve been trying to get me to retire for a long time,” said Mr. Penny, who has led the department for more than 25 years. Two weeks after they took office, he said, Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and Councilwoman Theresa Quigley asked him to retire, apparently both to save money and also because “they wanted to make over the town in their own image.”

Mr. Penny called the recent charges “trumped-up kind of stuff,” adding that “every other supervisor had no problems with them.”

Ms. Quigley said Town Board members could not legally comment on the case because it is a confidential personnel matter. She also declined to say 
whether or not she asked Mr. Penny to retire.

Mr. Penny hired an attorney, Thomas Horn, after he was notified of the charges last Wednesday afternoon at his office. On Monday Mr. Horn called them “the first blow in a war of attrition” that would be decided by whose resources were depleted first.

“There’s no reason for the suspension that’s been verbalized,” Mr. Horn said. “It puts an undue burden ... he has to pay for his own attorney with 30 days’ less pay.”

“This Grinch-like resolution to suspend him at this time of the year does not make much sense for the taxpayer,” the attorney added, explaining that when Mr. Penny “is eventually exonerated, which I think he will be, taxpayers will have gotten nothing for those 30 days” except a bill for them, plus legal fees.

The town claims that Mr. Penny failed to remove animal carcasses from a storage room in the 300 Pantigo Place office complex, where the Natural Resources Department is based, after Supervisor Wilkinson asked him in September and October to dispose of them. When the town eventually hired a contractor to remove the remains, it was discovered that Mr. Penny had been storing a formaldehyde solution without the authority to do so, according to the charges.

Mr. Penny said he had been collecting animal specimens for years for museums and for research, and that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration said it was all right for him to store the carcasses.

The town also claims that Mr. Penny violated New York State of Department Environmental Conservation permits by allowing a contractor to use “mechanical means” to remove trees at the Barbara Hale Preserve in Springs. It also alleges that Mr. Penny allowed the contractor to keep the downed trees without authorization, although Mr. Penny said Thursday that a neighbor had agreed to take some of the trees rather than let them die.

Other charges relate to the town’s claims that Mr. Penny did not complete a phragmites removal project before a permit expired, failed to follow up on an investigation into illegal clearing of vegetation on Squaw Road in Springs, and did not properly supervise his employees, handle department finances or communicate with other departments.

On Thursday, Mr. Horn called the charges “vague from both a legal standpoint and a practical standpoint.” He said the town seemed to be “cherry-picking incidents” and targeting “things that he’s done for years and that are part of his job.”

“From an administrative point of view, this is working backwards,” Mr. Horn said, adding that it would have been more appropriate to legislate and articulate a change in policy.

“Board members are not more expert than the department head they hire,” he said, adding that the supervisor could well be “an environmental genius,” but is not the natural resources director.

“They’re treating him as a subordinate that just takes orders,” Mr. Horn said of Mr. Penny, “when he’s really being paid to execute independent thought and judgment.”

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Penny for your thoughts?
By Hambone (514), New York on Dec 7, 11 1:30 PM
I smell a scandal here. This happened so fast and this suspension was pushed thru at a special town board meeting at lightning speed - seems they wanted him out asap so they could prepare a case for some very serious charges about to be made public. I wonder how the East Hampton Star will report this.
By SisBoomBonacker (106), Hamptons on Dec 7, 11 4:14 PM
why did they wait until after the election?
By harbor (415), East Hampton on Dec 8, 11 9:36 AM
How long should "they" have waited? I am so sick of reading this stuff from you Harbor ... there are 2 "other" members of the Town Board ... and there will be two more Dems very, very, shortly ... but In this case I may actually agree with you!!! If "they" really wanted to be politicians - "they" maybe should have waited for a unanimous decision with Overby and VanScoyoc weighing in after the new year ... now THAT might have been politically savvy! In any event, a suspension is a suspension ... ...more
By Board Watcher (534), East Hampton on Dec 8, 11 11:43 PM
Thank you for reading my posts. Explain to me why the action was taken after the election when the alleged violations occurred well many months before? I'm not defending Penney, just find the timing peculiar.
By harbor (415), East Hampton on Dec 10, 11 6:10 PM
Wait - article says, "The East Hampton Town Board is seeking to fire Natural Resources Director Larry Penny, and suspended him for 30 days without pay on Wednesday."

Do they want to fire him then suspend him or did the writers mean that the board wants to suspend him first the find a way to fire him?
By BIGjimbo12 (201), East Quogue on Dec 9, 11 11:10 PM
The writers at the show Parks & Recreation must be thrilled! More free material for next season. They usually look to SHTGOV but will take what they can get.
By G (342), Southampton on Dec 10, 11 9:15 AM
Well, it WAS a unanimous Board decision. So one supposes that Penny's suspension is due to a more substantive issue than Wilkinsonian pique. However, the actual incidents listed don't seem to merit termination. I wonder why they really want to fire this guy.
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Dec 10, 11 9:38 AM
1 member liked this comment
First Edna Steck and now Larry Penny. Maybe they just want to get rid of all the department heads. Who will be next?
By disappointed (96), wainscott on Dec 10, 11 4:44 PM
With any luck Taylor.
By independent observer (34), east hampton on Dec 11, 11 1:07 PM
It is never as it appears to the outside observer. The current bi-partisan board and a former democrat administration, both took similar actions to remove Mr. Penny. Obviously, there is something more than meets the eye. I would let the issue run its course before making such rash accusations. Matters related to emplyees cannot be discussed in open session and I'm sure that knowing what the outcry was the first time, this board took a hard look before taking such an action against Mr. Penny, ...more
By Waincott Resident (42), Wainscott on Dec 13, 11 5:28 PM
So a bankrupt town is trimming the payroll and elimination pointless jobs held by strange individuals by the means available to them. Unfortunately he'll be getting paid for life regardless. Who was "Natural Resources Director" before him? Probably nobody for the previous 300+ years of the towns history.
Since the Feds wont do anything about illegal aliens, maybe the town should hire a few, "off the books" at sub-standard wages, and no benes or pension of course, since they cant be hired legally, ...more
By smacw (240), New York on Dec 14, 11 9:09 PM
Without addressing the merits or demerits of accusations against Mr Penny (for it is a personnel matter for which no one else has the facts), there should be a certain dignified way in which to handle this and that has NOT been the case.

Many locals know Larry Penny and his unblemished record of achievement. He is a reputable, insightful and dedicated individual. Whatever happens here, we ask the Town Board to handle the matter with dignity and respect for an outstanding person.
By JimmyKBond (156), Hampton Bays on Dec 16, 11 9:45 AM
Everyone is focusing on what Mr. Penny HAS done for East Hampton, and he has done much more than most. Fact is he is now 76 yrs. old and can't keep pace with his job anymore. Mr. Penny was wisely asked to retire on many occasions by both political parties. He seems like a pro athelete who just can't understand that he's lost his edge. Just a quick plea, please retire Mr. Penny, go out on top as you deserve to. So many people would love to come to your retirement party and give you the accolades ...more
By independent observer (34), east hampton on Dec 16, 11 8:30 PM