Ulster Town Supervisor James E. Quigley III will receive no discipline following an investigation into what he himself described as a “rant” against a Black neighbor that included mentions of ‘him living in ‘Whitty’s (sic) Neighborhood’ and ‘Black Lives Matters (sic).’
The investigation was conducted at Quigley’s request by Councilmen Rocco Secreto and Clayton Van Kleeck.
The issue arose following a telephone call between Quigley and his unnamed neighbor that took place in the morning of Monday, August 30 during which removal of a fallen willow tree was discussed. In a statement shared by the town, Quigley wrote, “I identified myself as the Town Supervisor and a neighbor. I expressed concern that the tree would be removed by the Highway Department as a traffic obstruction and did not want that to happen. I detected a sense of hostility and annoyance from (name redacted) when he quizzed me on where I lived and what side of the street it was on and did I drive past his house. He then advised me he had called a landscaper and his schedule was two weeks out to fix the tree. My recollection is he said Thank You and hung up.”
Quigley said that the neighbor has lived in the area for nearly two decades but that he didn’t recall them ever meeting in person.
“I reacted incorrectly and called a third party on my personal cellphone and ranted,” Quigley wrote. “About the attitude I perceived and made statements about him living in ‘Whitty’s (sic) Neighborhood’ and ‘Black Lives Matters (sic).’”
Quigley said he was not aware that the town cellphone he used had instead redialed the neighbor, who then overheard the supervisor’s comments about him, until he heard from Highway Superintendent Frank Petramale, who the neighbor called on Wednesday, September 1.
In a written statement to Secreto and Van Kleeck, Petramale said he’d spoken to the neighbor in person after a road crew reported seeing the willow tree, but that he had not spoken to Quigley beforehand.
“(Name redacted) stated that he had spoken to Supervisor Quigley on the phone regarding the tree and that the phone conversation didn’t go well, and (name redacted) stated that after the phone conversation ended, and he could hear Supervisor Quigley still talking on the phone and not saying nice things,” wrote Petramale. “(Name redacted) never told me what he herd (sic) the Supervisor actually said that was bad. He just stated that it wasn’t nice.”
The findings of the report by Secreto and Van Kleeck dated Thursday, September 9 were shared during a meeting of the Town Board held one week later.
“We interviewed the resident, who wishes to remain anonymous,” reads the report, which says that all statements agree on the details of the matter. They further found that Quigley had apologized to the unnamed resident in a telephone call, and also did so publicly during a Town Board meeting held on Thursday, September 2.
Secreto and Van Kleeck said they also met personally with the neighbor to discuss the incident and offered him the opportunity to file a complaint, which he declined.
“The resident accepts Jim’s public apology and holds no anger,” said Secreto and Van Kleeck in their findings. “He appreciated our efforts to hold Jim accountable…The resident hopes to generate a positive outcome from this incident. He only requests that the board sponsor a community meeting, after election season, for the residents of the neighborhood to gather and discuss what is going on in their neighborhood.”
Quigley is running for a sixth consecutive term as supervisor in November. He’s previously stated publicly that he will not run again after this election.
While the investigation revealed that the unnamed neighbor is reportedly satisfied that the matter is closed, some area residents feel otherwise. Three of them spoke during the meeting, including Regis Obijiski, vice-chair of TownOfUlsterCitizens.org, who read a prepared statement.
“This is a difficult moment for our town because Mr. Quigley, our elected leader, exhibited behavior that demonstrably lacked self-awareness, self-regulation, and social understanding befitting a leader in the discharge of his duties,” said Obijiski. “To repair and ensure the confidence of the Town’s residents, to repair and ensure the credibility of the Town Board itself with this investigation, and to ensure fairness to Mr. Quigley himself, we strongly recommend that the Town Board obey the Town Code by activating a Board of Ethics, which should be composed of two town residents who are not town employees and one town resident who is an employee, whether elected or not elected. Since the Town Supervisor is the one being investigated, he must forfeit the right to appoint his investigators.”
Secreto said that because the unnamed resident chose not to file a complaint, convening a Board of Ethics was not appropriate. But local resident Wayne Spanier said “I think that it’s unrealistic and not fair to expect a Black citizen to come forward and make himself known publicly to file a complaint about this issue,” said Spanier. “Because he may just be a very forgiving person, but he may just not want to be made a target and put himself in the public eye as filing a complaint being a Black citizen in a white neighborhood.”
Local resident Eileen Murphy agreed. “During this time of racial injustice, I hear one white elected official in this town exhibiting a micro-aggression to a Black man,” said Murphy. “This African-American male was racially insulted by the top white man in the local government. In addition, he was interviewed by two white councilmen…Rather than ask this gentleman what he’s going to do, rather offer to this gentleman and to our diverse community what we’re going to do to invite more people of color to join our town.”
The next meeting of the Ulster Town Board is scheduled for Thursday, October 7.