Officials question Gallo’s fitness for office

Mayor Shayne Gallo. (Photo by Dan Barton)

Mayor Shayne Gallo. (Photo by Dan Barton)

Editor’s note: This report contains some vulgar language. Reader discretion is advised.

In the wake of the revelation that Kingston Mayor Shayne Gallo screamed, used copious profanity and made threats of arrest and physical harm to a city employee during a meeting to terminate his employment, at least two city officials are questioning Gallo’s fitness for office.

The outburst, which was secretly recorded by parking enforcement officer Jeremy Blaber, occurred on April 16 when Blaber was summoned to a meeting with Gallo and Corporation Counsel Andrew Zweben. The pair, Blaber said, planned to fire him over allegations of drug use. On the tape Gallo, an attorney, is heard informing Blaber that Zweben would be acting in his official capacity as corporation counsel in the meeting. Zweben then refers to Blaber’s behavior since a stint in a drug rehabilitation facility earlier this year.

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“There’s been a series of incidents, let’s call them slips and falls,” said Zweben. “We’re in a position now where it’s fair for someone to say, ‘What are we doing, why are letting this happen,’ it’s become too public.”

Blaber then tells Zweben that he has a right to go to rehab, prompting Gallo to break in and note that he had negotiated the city’s substance abuse policy years earlier and insist that Blaber could indeed be terminated for having refused a drug test prior to entering rehab. Two and half minutes into the recording, after Blaber points out that he’s passed three drug tests since returning to duty, Gallo explodes, screaming, “Shut the fuck up! Don’t say another word ’cause I’ll have [Kingston Police] Chief Tinti come here and arrest your fucking sorry ass!”

Gallo then refers to a “patch” held in the vault in the office of City Comptroller John Tuey and “the chain of custody.” According to Blaber, Gallo was referring to a transdermal Subutex patch. Subutex is an opiate blocker typically used to treat narcotics addiction. Blaber said that the patch was found in Tuey’s office after Blaber was there for a meeting earlier this year. The mayor, believing the patch contained narcotics, ordered it to be secured at City Hall. Gallo also threatened to have Blaber arrested for driving with a suspended license, a claim Gallo said that would be backed up by Gallo’s girlfriend and Kingston Times feature writer Carrie Jones Ross. Gallo unleashes another tirade moments later, after Zweben claims that Blaber has told Gallo’s mother that he had used drugs since returning to work. When Blaber repeats the denial, Gallo interrupts him.

“You calling my mother a fucking liar? Because that guy will have to pull me off of you,” Gallo growls. “You calling my mother a liar? You calling my mother a liar! You calling her a liar!”

Gallo goes on to accuse Blaber of stealing candy from a Citgo station on Broadway while wearing his city-issued uniform jacket  – an incident which was caught on tape and later referred to police by Gallo. Blaber denies “taking anything on city time” and claims that he later returned and gave the owner $4 for the candy. Gallo first claims that the store owner declined to press charges for the alleged theft to protect that mayor’s office from embarrassment. He later said that the matter had not been reported to police because the store owner thought Blaber was an undercover cop staking out the station in the wake of an underage alcohol sales sting.

The meeting breaks up after Blaber asserts again that he will contest his termination. On the recording Gallo exclaims, “You want to fucking fight it? I will fucking bury you because I’m pressing charges criminally. Sit right there buddy cause I’m calling Chief Tinti and you’ll be arrested.”

Gallo then apparently leaves the office leaving Zweben with Blaber. The recording cuts off as Zweben gently prods Blaber to admit he’s back on drugs.

Zweben said that the tone of the recording is misleading; he said he recalls Blaber speaking just as loudly as Gallo. Zweben said the recording also omitted a second confrontation, after Gallo returned to the office, in which Blaber shouted, “I’ll get you, Gallo!”

“What you don’t get [on the tape] is Jeremy’s behavior and conduct,” said Zweben. “I had to push Jeremy out of the room and get him out of the building because he was yelling and screaming.”

Jeremy Blaber. (Photo by Dan Barton)

Jeremy Blaber. (Photo by Dan Barton)

Tinti, speaking after the recording became public, said that after Gallo informed him of the shoplifting allegation and that he had dispatched detectives to view store security camera footage. No arrest was made, Tinti said, because cops never received an official complaint. Tinti said that, despite his threat upon leaving the office, Gallo never called him the day of Blaber’s firing. Tinti added that police could not make an arrest based on orders from the mayor.

“The mayor can report a crime, he can give us information,” said Tinti. “But it’s no different from any other person who has that information and wants to share it with us.”

Blaber, meanwhile, said that he would continue to fight his termination. Jessica Ladlee, a regional spokeswoman for CSEA, the union which represents Blaber and other City Hall employees, said Friday that union officials were disturbed by the fact that Blaber did not have union representation at the meeting. She added that more than two weeks after he was fired, Blaber still has not been served with the formal disciplinary charges that she said are a necessary step in the termination process.

Zweben declined to discuss the legal strategy surrounding the termination. But, he said, the mere fact that Blaber lacked a valid driver’s license disqualified him from holding the parking enforcement job.

Ladlee, meanwhile, said the union was also investigating whether Gallo’s behavior during the meeting violated the city’s workplace violence prevention policy. The policy, which Gallo is responsible for enforcing, prohibits threatening language and behavior. Zweben said that Gallo remained seated during the meeting and at no time during the confrontation did he feel the mayor’s language or actions rose to the level of a violation of city policy.

Questions of temperament

Blaber was an early and ardent supporter of Gallo’s campaign before being appointed to the parking enforcement job shortly after Gallo took office in 2012. The revelation of the recording of the meeting comes during a turbulent period for Gallo, a stretch that has caused at least two members of the Common Council to publicly question his temperament.

On April 15, one day before the meeting with Blaber, Gallo abruptly fired Community Development Director Jennifer Fuentes. Fuentes, another key member of Gallo’s 2011 campaign team, had been one of the mayor’s closest advisers and his point person on a Midtown revitalization plan that had been a centerpiece of his administration.

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At an April 23 executive session of the Common Council’s community development committee, inadvertently webcast by a reporter covering it, Zweben declined to explain to committee members the rationale behind Fuentes’ termination, except to say that it did not involve malfeasance.

On April 17, a Hurley man went to the Kingston Police Department to report that a man claiming to be the mayor of Kingston pulled up alongside his car and berated him for allegedly rolling though a stop sign and almost causing an accident. According to a police report provided to the Kingston Times by Tinti, the man told police he felt Gallo had been out of line in yelling and approaching his car too closely. Gallo, it turns out, had previously reported the encounter to police and told a city cop that he had advised the motorist simply to be more careful.

On April 26, Gallo ordered that a city dump truck be parked in the right of way of the Catskill Mountain Railroad, blocking the tracks. Zweben said the blockage, which lasted until Monday, April 29, was a temporary measure until the city obtained a restraining order to prevent the railroad from hauling a pair of crumbling and allegedly toxic rail cars into the city for restoration work. The truck was moved after railroad officials accused the city of committing a Class D felony by placing an obstruction on an active rail line.

Last week, prior to the tape’s release, Common Council Majority Leader Tom Hoffay posted a statement on Facebook and in a comments thread on a local newspaper website saying “the mayor has gone mad.” Hoffay, who had heard the recording prior to its appearance in the media, quickly apologized for the statement. This week, however, he called for Gallo to apologize for his demeanor in the recording or resign for the good of the city. Hoffay said that he believed the profanity and verbal abuse evident on the recording was not an isolated incident. That conclusion was backed by the accounts of at least half a dozen current and former city employees or officials, most of whom spoke to the Kingston Times on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

“It’s consistent with the stories that come out of City Hall, with what you read in the papers, with what I am personally aware of,” said Hoffay. “There’s an explosive and often vindictive temperament.”

Veteran Alderman Bob Senor, in comments to the Kingston Times before Blaber’s recording was made public, said that he too had become concerned about potential negative consequences stemming from Gallo’s aggressive, sometimes impulsive, style. City Hall employees, Senor said, “are walking on eggshells,” afraid of incurring Gallo’s anger.

“You’re supposed to be afraid of your boss, but not this much,” said Senor.

Gallo did not return calls seeking comment; Zweben said he planned to make a statement later Friday. As of 5:30 Friday afternoon, this statement had not been received by the Kingston Times.

There are 8 comments

  1. Allison Gray Teetsel

    “Zweben declined to discuss the legal strategy surrounding the termination. But, he said, the mere fact that Blaber lacked a valid driver’s license disqualified him from holding the parking enforcement job.”

    Yet that wasn’t among the reasons given for Blaber’s termination. Go figure. Any way to find out when the suspension went into effect? This makes me wonder whether Blaber should have been appointed to the position in the first place…

    “Zweben said that Gallo remained seated during the meeting and at no time during the confrontation did he feel the mayor’s language or actions rose to the level of a violation of city policy.”

    So, according to Zweben, “that guy will have to pull me off of you” and “I will bury you” are totally calm, reasonable statements to make when dealing with an employee. If I didn’t question his judgement before, I sure do now.

    “…most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.”
    I’m amazed to see that so many people seem to think this is a minor issue. When “at least half a dozen current and former city employees or officials” are afraid to speak against the mayor, we’ve got a serious problem.

  2. Ann Cahill

    Who goes to a performance review wired with a recording device unless it was to provoke? The same people have been calling the Mayor the same names since he decided to run. He is just doing his job. Unfortunately the people he fired did not do theirs. It’s called leadership.

    1. Allison Gray Teetsel

      You may be right about one thing…a person typically does not go into a meeting with a recording device without reason…And that, right there, is the problem. Our city employees should be able to feel comfortable meeting and speaking with the mayor, even if they’re on opposite sides of an issue. And the mayor should be able to resist “being provoked”. As an elected official, you’re going to have people who oppose you, for a whole slew of reasons. Some of them will try to antagonize you…to goad you into lashing out. You need to be able to rise above that, and to conduct yourself with dignity and decorum, no matter what’s thrown at you. THAT is called leadership.
      Claiming that Gallo was provoked implies that he is not in control of his own behavior, and is a classic case of victim-blaming. Blaber’s firing could have (and should have) been handled much differently.

  3. The Red Dog Party

    “Gallo also threatened to have Blaber arrested for driving with a suspended license, a claim Gallo said that would be backed up by Gallo’s girlfriend and Kingston Times feature writer Carrie Jones Ross.”

    While I admire Ms. Ross’s writing, where I come from, this is a blatant conflict of interest, with bias. How is it possible for anyone to judge the competence and fairness of anything this newspaper prints?

    1. Allison Gray Teetsel

      I don’t speak for the KT or Ulster Publishing (obviously), but I can guarantee you that the possibility of such a conflict has been examined and addressed. You may notice that Carrie’s pieces tend to be more general interest/personal features, with Jesse Smith covering the bulk of political news features having to do with Gallo. If there were any bias present, I definitely understand the concern, but I’m fairly certain we wouldn’t be seeing this article in its present state.

  4. Don Canard

    no. you’re not supposed to be afraid of your boss. fear and greed beget fear and greed. respect is a better plan. mutually.

  5. admin

    Hey, this is Dan Barton, editor of the Kingston Times. Since I do speak for the paper, I would like to address The Red Dog Party’s post. Allison Gray Teetsel hit it pretty much on the head: Carrie never wrote about politics much prior to her relationship with Mayor Gallo and after she disclosed to us that she was having that relationship (immediately after it began) it was resolved – and held to – that she not cover stories having to do with politics or Shayne Gallo.
    As far as whether having the mayor’s girlfriend on our staff has made us take it easy on the mayor or has resulted in preferential treatment from the mayor, I will say this: you can judge a straight shooter by the straightness of the shots. Looking back on our coverage, I am not seeing any evidence of tilting things to make Gallo look better. (If anything, it made us more mindful of keeping our coverage above board.) If this were not true, perhaps the mayor back in March would not have called me up and – after expressing his extreme discontent with a story Jesse wrote about a firefighter suing the city – say he was never speaking to the Kingston Times again. (This is not the first time he has asserted – and then retracted – his unwillingness to participate in our stories.) I offered him a letter to the editor to rebut Jesse’s story, the accuracy of which we stand by, but the offer was never taken up and we did not hear from the mayor or Andy Zweben for a solid month, until they wanted their side of the story in our piece about the track-blocking dumptruck. If this is preferential treatment, I would hate to find out what happens when he gets angry at us.

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