The Saugerties town ethics board is weighing a complaint that a senior town employee pressured subordinates to attend a 2015 Republican caucus and vote for his preferred candidates. The volunteer board met on Tuesday, May 23 to hear testimony from current and former employees of the town’s Parks and Recreation Department regarding the alleged misconduct by department head Greg Chorvas. The ethics board has not yet rendered a decision in case.
“I’m looking forward to hearing their decision,” said Town Supervisor Greg Helsmoortel this week. “But I don’t know when that will be.”
The ethics complaint was filed in December by Saugerties Conservative Party Chairman George Heidcamp based on allegations contained in a letter from former Parks and Rec employee Brett Baschnagel. In a letter to town officials, Baschnagel described what he called improper behavior by Chorvas regarding an Aug. 3, 2015 caucus meeting of the town’s Republican Committee. At the time Helsmoortel, a registered Democrat, was seeking a cross-endorsement from the town’s Republican Committee. Conservative Party member Gaetana Ciarlante was also seeking the party line.
According to Baschnagel’s account, the morning of the caucus, Chorvas consulted a list of Saugerties voters and called a meeting of department employees registered as Republicans. According to Baschnagel, Chorvas told those assembled that they should attend the caucus and vote for Helsmoortel and town board incumbents Leeanne Thornton and Fred Costello. Chorvas, Baschnagel claims, called town GOP Chairman Joe Roberti “a scumbag” and warned that if Ciarlante was elected there would be cutbacks in the department and some of them could lose their jobs.
Baschnagel said that he and other Parks and Rec workers attended the caucus. At least one co-worker, he said, complained that Chorvas was pressuring him to stay long enough to vote while his wife was expecting him home.
Baschnagel, who resigned from the department in November and now lives in Florida, said he felt “uncomfortable” with Chorvas’ alleged on-the-job politicking. But, he said, he did not realize the alleged meeting could be an ethical violation until late last year when he discussed it with Roberti. A section of the town’s ethics code prohibits employees from asking subordinates to participate in or donate to political causes.
In an interview in January, Chorvas denied any wrongdoing. He described the meeting the day of the caucus as “routine” and said that while he encouraged his staff to attend the event, he made no effort to influence their votes. Chorvas described Baschnagel as a “disgruntled” former employee who quit the job not long after he was removed from a supervisory post. Baschnagel disputes that Chorvas’ characterization of his departure from the job and points to a letter of recommendation from his former boss as proof that he left the department in good standing.
Baschnagel spoke to the Saugerties Times one day after he testified to the ethics board via remote video link. Baschnagel complained that town officials had declined to provide time sheets and work logs from the day of the caucus that he had sought under state Freedom of Information Law, citing privacy concerns. Baschnagel said that he believed the documents would help confirm his account of a Republicans-only morning meeting. Baschnagel added that the board’s questions led him to believe that members were not inclined to take his allegations seriously. Baschnagel said board members focused on a discrepancy in his complaint regarding the date of the alleged meeting and questioned why he had not come forward with his allegations earlier.
“I was really disappointed with how things went,” said Baschnagel. “The ethics board was very hostile towards me,” said Baschnagel. “You could tell from their questions it was a losing battle.”