Ulster comptroller probes compost

Ulster County Comptroller March Gallagher and her target.

The Ulster County comptroller’s efforts to gather information about operations at the Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency (UCRRA) could end up in court.

In a June 18 lawsuit filed in Ulster County Supreme Court, UCRRA Executive Director Timothy DeGraff claims Comptroller March Gallagher’s interest auditing the agency is political and started with a young man who has an “ongoing personal dispute” with one of the employees at UCRRA’s Kingston recycling facility at 999 Flatbush Road.

The “young man” is Don Markle III, 31, owner of a small dump trailer business. On May 3, he attended a meeting of the Ulster County Legislature’s Energy and Environment Committee to complain that he has repeatedly tried to buy compost at the agency’s facility to resell to clients looking for topsoil. Markle claimed that while he was limited to purchases of one or two tons of compost a day, UCRRA employee Willie Whittaker was regularly buying ten times that amount. That was a clear case of nepotism, Markle charged, since Whittaker’s brother Charles is Director of Operations at UCRRA.

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At the meeting, county legislator Laura Petit of Esopus said she had been receiving similar complaints from constituents.

Gallagher says she too has heard “multiple [confidential] whistleblower and customer complaints” about the compost program, suggesting that it benefitted not the public but primarily “a single employee of UCRRA.” She told us she met with DeGraff as early as March 1 to discuss the compost program, as well as properties UCRRA had purchased that seemed to have no business purpose. She wanted to know why UCRRA charges less than it should for compost and sells it for “a fraction of market price.”  She finds it “shocking” that the agency is not trying to maximize profits to offset the fees it charges the public and Ulster County businesses for waste disposal.

In the following weeks, Gallagher’s office demanded journal entries, scale logs and customer lists. When her deadlines were not met, she issued a subpoena. She says UCRRA has a contract with Ulster County for the composting operation and that makes her the auditing authority.

But UCRRA, which was set up as public authority to minimize political interference in garbage, maintains that it does not answer to the county comptroller but to the state comptroller and the NYS Authorities Budget Office. UCRRA attorney Jacob F. Lamme told us by email: “The UCRRA has nothing to hide, but it cannot comply with an illegal subpoena and stand by idly as the Comptroller seeks to expand her limited governmental powers. We believe her motivations here are purely political and, unfortunately, at the expense of the Ulster County taxpayers.”

The chairman of the Legislature, David Donaldson, says the comptroller’s subpoena of financial records may have “gotten people’s backs up.” The agency has turned documents related to compost sales over to Donaldson’s financial staff. He said last week that he’d forward them to Gallagher shortly.

Gallagher is convinced she’s on solid legal ground and maintains that a judge will confirm her jurisdiction as soon as July. Manna Jo Greene, chair of the Energy and Environment Committee, wants the agency to be transparent but believes that working together, the legislature, the RRA and the comptroller can identify and address any problems with the compost program or anything else.

Donaldson notes that no recovery agency is perfect – “there are always issues about garbage” – but he feels UCRRA is doing a pretty good job overall. Other issues have been raised in addition to the compost program. Donaldson acknowledges that on some days, a smell emanates from the Kingston facility and says that “UCRRA has not yet dealt with that adequately.”

The comptroller is also concerned that UCRRA is operating its facility in a “noxious manner,” spreading unpleasant odors to its neighbors. On June 9, she sent Greene a memo listing “numerous areas” where the Resource Recovery Agency is not meeting the terms of its contract, including failing to submit budgets on time. Greene believes that all the issues could be solved working cooperatively. UCRRA is, she says, doing a good job in many ways – like helping to address climate change with waste diversion – and she’s grateful to Gallagher for raising awareness of UCRRA’s contractual responsibilities.

Comptroller Gallagher seems to take a broad view of her office’s mandate to examine “how tax dollars are being spent, invested, protected, and collected.”

She says the UCRRA needs a “top to bottom shake-up” given the challenges ahead. The agency now trucks garbage to the Seneca Meadows landfill in Waterloo, which is scheduled to close in 2025. Gallagher is skeptical that UCRRA has the governance and leadership skills to manage a smooth transition.

As for favoritism at UCRRA, its attorney says it is “patently false” that employees could buy more compost than members of the public. He says all compost purchases were limited to one loader bucket or 2 tons because a 60 percent reduction in food waste brought in made less compost available for sale. Donaldson, who represents Kingston, says there have been few recent complaints.

Don Markle says it’s “nonsense” to say his dispute with Whittaker is personal; he says the issue is favoritism and access to compost. (Although Donaldson notes that Willie Whittaker’s company is called “Affordable Dump Trailer Rental” and Markle named his now-defunct business “Better than Affordable Dump Trailer & Rentals.”) Markle’s father, 52, also named Don, has worked at UCRRA for 28 years.  He backed his son’s allegations and says he was harassed as a result and quit. Since his son went public, Markle agrees that compost is distributed more fairly.

There are 14 comments

  1. Luke

    I am a member of the public and have gotten compost from Willie several times in the past and have been extremely pleased with his service.

    1. BS

      Well there, Luke, no one complained of Willie’s service, so your post is of no importance too the actual subject at hand, nepotism, cronyisim, and favoritism in politics. And, how knowing someone, not only fills the hand but; ”greases the backside”, so too speak. If there is nothing too hide, you do not sue in court, too keep it hidden. You do not, care what authority, with the power or not, you show them. Now, if you have something too hide, you go kicking and screaming the whole way; If nothing too hide, you let all see. It is truly that simple, there is not a doubt, that brother Willie gets more. They will spend all kinds of taxpayer money, just too keep that a secret. And, if they are truly a Public agency, paid by taxpayer money, than the only authority, anyone would need too audit their books, is just a demand too do just that, by any of us. They are fighting, because they are dirty.

      1. Jaymes Nohns

        Thank you…..you are totally describing how the Democrats are handling the election audits…..and election integrity………funny how it works both ways…..

  2. Bill H

    This definitely needs to be investigated. But, just for kicks, I wonder if some of those those who are outraged (above) also support the last president, who unabashedly gave jobs to his entire extended family and a large number of his long-time friends. I do not write this to defend UCRRA, but to call out the political opportunist that tends to be selectively outraged.

    1. Jaymes Nohns

      Since you like to direct questions….tell us, just what did Trump prevent you as a citizen from doing? Was it the mean tweets? You have never answered this question directly, only avoided it, shamed others etc. So lets hear it…..answer the questions….

  3. Joe S.

    I have to say Bill H you are aware that Biden is doing the same thing right? like you know that..right? So if you are in the same political party then it’s ok? See here you made me agree with Jaymes or at least side with him, he doesn’t even believe in science, CMON Bill! see the link below.

    Let me break it down for you since your blinded by stupidity and blindness. The Democratic party is clueless, utterly clueless. Every major Democratic City in America is on fire, crime rates through the roof, taxes going up up up, I mean NYC is the rotten apple again. I get it you too low intelligence to vote anything but Democrat ok there are Republicans that are the same way, it’s sad and frankly killing our country. Now hear me out, why not try voting for someone else, if your only voting one-party vote for somebody else, and if they don’t produce vote for someone else same party if that makes you happy but let’s try someone else.

    Also, seeing anyone who is not in the same mindset as you or your party as the enemy is pathetic and Un-American. So any political person or TV/Radio personality is demonizing one side should be ignored not embraced. Like all countries, we have made mistakes but we are the best country on the planet it’s why everyone is clamoring to get here.

    Also if you hate the country or ashamed or whatever then guess what you can leave, yeah I’m serious you can leave, you leave and good luck and God bless, we will be fine as wine without you trust me. Just don’t come back we could do with a lot less hate in the Country. Here is a novel idea why not talk with someone you don’t agree with and see if there is something you agree on I bet there is, not only politically but culturally.

    Link Bill H right here
    https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/children-family-members-bidens-top-154737498.html

    1. Bill H

      Thanks for breaking it all down for me since I am, “blinded by stupidity and blindness” (Can a person be blinded by blindness?). But I am not a Democrat. I am sure you know that you do not have to belong to a political party in this country, and millions of Americans refuse to belong to either of the major parties for the very reasons you mention. The corruption is widespread, and not within only one of the parties. And, even if you do belong to one of the parties, you do not have to defend that party leader’s actions when they have gone astray. In fact, it is important that we all hold them accountable. It’s ok to accept that your own party, whatever it might be, is rife with corruption. Politics is not a sport in which one team wins and the other loses.

      I guess I struck a nerve by questioning a double-standard. It’s a shame that you tried to differentiate yourself from Nohns and then behave just like him. Well, minus the machine gun ellipses.

    2. Bill H

      Joe S, I read the article and find the news about the Biden administration’s nepotism outrageous. Just as outrageous as the previous president. Are you able to agree with me on that? That both former President Trump and President Biden are engaged in corruption in the form of nepotism, and that they were/are wrong for do so? You know, in the same way that the UCRRA allegedly is?

  4. Joe S.

    Bill H

    Of Course, I agree with you!

    I do not belong to any party, it is not a sports team it is a political party. They are both corrupt as all get out. My concern is that the media/Newspapers/social media have given a pass to the democrats and their leaders. It’s a mess and it’s causing a monster amount of hate.

    They are all crying about taxing the rich, but they never close the loopholes, why do you think that is? Maybe cause they all use the exact same loopholes?!
    .

    1. Bill H

      Joe, I am relieved that we agree that the corruption runs through both parties. It is amazing to me how many people have become so captivated by one party that they will never, ever, own up to its corruption. I also agree about neither party ever closing loopholes, which are designed for the benefit of those in power.

      Show me a republican led state that is not rife with governmental waste, nepotism, loopholes and corruption. It can’t be done, which is a good hint that the problem is not ONLY Democrats.

      I disagree that the media gives a pass only to democrats. The number one watched media source in the country is FoxNews, and Tucker Carlson specifically (who is not at all news), and they have certainly not given a pass to Democrats. I don’t write that in order to argue that it’s entirely the other side’s fault, but show that all this corruption runs rampant in nearly all major institutions in the U.S..

  5. Joe S.

    Bill H

    I agree.

    Shows like Tucker Carlons, Joy Reid, Hannity, Maddow, are talking heads. their one job is to gaslight you use skewered numbers to frighten you. I don’t watch any of that garbage.

    The thing is today people are apt to hit a clickbait and take it as fact. You can see how bad a one-party state is lookt NY and CA both garbage dumps. There is no other side to force one party to make more reasonable laws. GOP has the same issues Look at Texas they refuse to legalize Marijuana but make it difficult to get the day after pill, too many conservatives.

    If you blindly follow a political party your too small-minded to help. Really these people need mental health help.

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