Wendy Toman resigns as Gardiner’s recycling coordinator

recycle-SQFollowing a two-year tenure of implementing a broad array of reuse, recycling and cost-saving procedures at the Town of Gardiner Transfer Station, Wendy Toman has given the town notice that she will be leaving the post of recycling coordinator effective April 29. Town Supervisor Marybeth Majestic convened an emergency meeting of the Town Board on April 20 to accept Toman’s resignation and to strategize interim measures to keep the Transfer Station open until a new employee can be hired.

“We need to have somebody down there on a regular basis,” the supervisor told the three Town Board members who were able to attend on short notice. Councilman Mike Reynolds, who has consistently championed Toman’s initiatives since she came on board as recycling coordinator, was out of town on the 20th and not present at the meeting. Following a discussion, those present went into executive session to interview two potential candidates for the opening, then voted unanimously to authorize the supervisor to hire temporary employees “as needed” until the first July board meeting.

Toman, whose relationship with former supervisor Carl Zatz had been increasingly tense and contentious, told the New Paltz Times, “‘Extremely disappointed’ is an understatement to describe how I feel. I was looking forward to working with the new board, but some of them didn’t seem to want to work with me.” Her resignation letter, dated April 15 and addressed to Supervisor Majestic, stated, “Since taking office in January, you have made multiple decisions and directives, supported at times by other Town Board members, including but not limited to the reuse center moratorium, that confirm we are philosophically not aligned as to how the Transfer Station can be best managed for the overall benefit of the Town of Gardiner.”

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The 60-day moratorium in question, imposed on March 28, prohibits the Transfer Station from accepting, collecting, selling or giving away recycled items while the board further investigates liability issues brought to the town’s attention by its insurance company, New York Municipal Insurance Reciprocal (NYMIR). The company, which specializes in insuring municipalities, strongly recommended suspending the resale of certain items whose potential health and safety risks could conceivably put the town in jeopardy of a lawsuit.

“It was noted that a number of discarded items were available to the public, either for free or sale, including mattresses, baby strollers, electronics and toys. No warranty of safety or performance exists for these items, which may have hidden defects, be subject to recall, harbor vermin, etc. All items dropped off by the public must be permanently discarded. No items may be sold or otherwise passed on to third parties due to the potential for liability accruing to the town,” read the report sent to the town by NYMIR.

“Some things were deemed critical,” Majestic told the Times, and stated in the April 20 meeting that she was “personally concerned about combustible items,” like grills and kerosene heaters, along with potentially unsafe items used by small children such as cribs and baby carriages. Councilman John Hinson described the insurance company’s specifications as “suggestions how to reduce risk, but we don’t have to comply with everything… It has to be a balancing act.”

Though the shutdown of her reuse program without any warning was a trigger point, Toman said, “I don’t want people to think I quit because of the moratorium. I quit because of the way they went about it…. They voted on this without even talking to me.” She told the Times that Majestic “seems to have no interest in learning how [the Recycling Center] operates. I’m philosophically opposed to throwing things in a landfill that can be used by needy people…. I decided it was time for a parting of the ways. But I feel like I’m letting down the whole community.” She worried that some of her initiatives, such as the composting program, “could fall by the wayside” if the next person hired does not share her passion for recycling everything possible from the waste stream.

Councilman Hinson agreed that the Recycling Center was “still a feel-good program that a lot of residents of Gardiner enjoy having.” Other board members seemed to regard the potential liability issues as a more pressing concern. “We don’t want it to be based on the person in charge, but on a protocol,” said councilman David Dukler in support of Supervisor Majestic’s recommendation that a new management plan for the Transfer Station be developed before a permanent employee is hired to fill Toman’s position. Calling the transition “an opportunity to take a step back and analyze what we want,” councilwoman Laura Walls suggested bringing in a knowledgeable consultant to help update the management plan.

Two individuals with past experience working at the Gardiner Transfer Station were present at the meeting and interviewed in executive session: Carolyn Roland-Levy, who has substituted for Toman when she had time off and is available to work part-time on weekdays only, and Mike Rock, who worked as a Transfer Station attendant for much of 2013 when former coordinator Merry McCall fell seriously ill.

The Recycling Coordinator as currently defined as a unionized Civil Service position, and the vacancy must be advertised. No decision was made at the meeting to offer anyone the job immediately, but the supervisor was granted authority to cobble together interim coverage so that the Transfer Station can maintain its current hours of 8 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Glass, plastic, aluminum, electronics and clothing are still being accepted for recycling. For further information about the moratorium, contact the town supervisor at (845) 255-9675, extension 101. Employment applications are available from the town clerk, and résumés may be e-mailed to supervisor.tog@gmail.com.

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