A town official facing an ethics board investigation said this week he didn’t pressure subordinates to vote for a slate of Democrats seeking a cross-endorsement at a 2015 Republican caucus. Town Parks and Buildings Superintendent Greg Chorvas said this week the complaint was filed by a former employee who left the department “angry” and “disgruntled” after he was demoted last year.
“I encouraged [employees to attend the caucus] and I encouraged them to vote, but never once did I tell them who to vote for,” said Chorvas. “I would be nuts to do that after 35 years on the job.”
The allegations are contained in a letter written by former Saugerties Parks and Buildings field supervisor Brett Baschnagel in December. In the letter, Baschnagel claims that on August 6, 2015, Chorvas called a meeting in his office. The meeting, Baschnagel wrote, was only for department staff who were registered Republicans eligible to vote in a caucus meeting scheduled that night to choose candidates for town supervisor and the town board. Incumbent Democrat Greg Helsmoortel and two Democratic councilmembers, Leeanne Thornton and Fred Costello Jr., were expected to seek cross-endorsement at the caucus. Also seeking cross-endorsement for supervisor was Conservative Party candidate Gaetana Ciarlante.
Baschnagel claims that Chorvas told staff to vote for the Democratic slate and warned that Ciarlante and town GOP Chairman Joe Roberti would make cuts to the department if elected, costing some of those present their jobs. Baschnagel said he attended the caucus and voted for the Democrats despite feeling “uncomfortable” with the situation.
If Baschnagel’s allegations are true, Chorvas’ actions could run afoul of a section of the town’s ethics code that forbids town employees from asking subordinates to participate in political campaigns or make political contributions.
But Chorvas said in an interview on Tuesday, Jan. 31, that Baschnagel’s letter contains a number of falsehoods and half-truths. Chorvas said the meeting referenced in the letter was a routine morning get-together of department supervisors to discuss the day’s assignments. Chorvas said he told staff that the caucus was that night, in part because the department was responsible for setting up chairs and microphones at the Frank Greco Senior Center. When Baschnagel asked if he was eligible to vote in the caucus, Chorvas said that he consulted a list of registered voters and told him that he was. Chorvas added that while his feelings about the upcoming election “was a well-known fact,” he did not disparage candidates or tell his staff how to vote at the meeting.
Chorvas described Baschnagel as a disgruntled employee who quit the department shortly after he was removed from his supervisory position in November 2016. Chorvas said that, at the time, Baschnagel had “made threatening remarks” to the effect that he would cause embarrassment to Chorvas and the department.
“Given the conditions he left on, this doesn’t surprise me,” said Chorvas. “He was very, very angry.”
Baschnagel could not be reached at a phone number contained in the letter. But in a Facebook post on the Saugerties Times page, a poster under the name Brett Baschnagel described “turmoil” and misconduct in the department as the reason for his departure. The post also stated that Baschnagel had discussed the 2015 caucus with Helsmoortel before he wrote the letter. But no action was taken until last month, when Saugerties Conservative Party Chairman George Heidcamp forwarded it to the town’s ethics board and the press. Chorvas said that he had already sent a detailed response to the ethics board and was waiting for a ruling or further questions.
“I don’t want this swept under the carpet in any way,” said Chorvas. “This is before the ethics board now and that’s where it should be.”