The Town of Ulster councilmen who conducted an investigation into racially insensitive comments made by Supervisor James E. Quigley III, released a joint statement defending their handling of the inquiry and saying that the matter was closed. But some members of the community still feel the supervisor should face consequences for the incident.
An investigation last month was conducted at Quigley’s request by Councilmen Rocco Secreto and Clayton Van Kleeck into what the supervisor 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 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).’”
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.”
But the issue, and its handling by councilmen, has not gone away, with some members of the public speaking out at a recent Town Board meeting.
In a letter to the town read during the meeting, Vicki Lucatini said she was “disappointed by the Town Board’s handling of our supervisor’s racial rant.”
“In my opinion, your inaction shows an insensitivity to the realities people of color are facing today,” Lucatini wrote. “I’m sure Mr. Quigley is sincere in his apology and regrets his behavior. However he has admitted to losing his temper at other times.”
Three other people spoke during a public comment period at the end of the meeting, including Wayne Spanier.
“The rant is shocking but not surprising,” Spanier said. “Mr. Quigley clearly knew he had crossed a dangerous line and he offered to resign if the board decided that he should. He chose his fellow board members to be the judges of his case rather than an objective and qualified panel…The lack of accountability is no surprise either, but it is not too late to remedy that.”
Spanier said Quigley’s comments were damaging to the community at large. “The insult directed to the Black community is also an insult to the entire community, at least those of us who see it as our obligation and privilege to stand with our neighbors,” Spanier said.
He added that he believed Secreto and Van Kleeck were ill-equipped to handle the investigation, and should have at least recommended anger management and racial insensitivity training for the supervisor. “They are clearly out of their depth on this and should have recused themselves,” Spanier said. “They should have refused to sit in judgment on this issue.”
During the same meeting, Van Kleeck read a statement on behalf of himself and Secreto.
“(Secreto) is registered as a Democrat, and I as a Republican,” Van Kleeck read during a meeting held on Thursday, October 14. “With Rocco’s leadership we have committed to working together as councilmen first for the Town of Ulster and we have done that. We have strived to be firm but fair, as we’ve dealt with the many personalities within this town. We adhere to and work with the town’s policies, contracts and regulations. Along with the two of us being local businessmen, I have 10 years of experience as an original member of the Ulster County Board of Ethics. We took our role very seriously when we were charged with investigating recent confession of Jim Quigley, our town supervisor, regarding his recent offensive comment. We spent an extra week seeking any relevant testimony, consulting policy, seeking legal advice.”
Van Kleeck said that the result of the investigation was in part influenced by a conversation with the unnamed neighbor at the center of the matter.
“The accusation by some that the resident was potentially intimidated or coerced to not file a complaint by us, by two bald white men, is absurd,” Van Kleeck said. “It is an insult to an upstanding resident and to the two of us as proven and fair publicly elected officials. We must reiterate that the resident has graciously accepted Mr. Quigley’s apology, greatly appreciated our meeting with him, and asked us to commit to getting beyond this issue and to move on to things that will help our community. He asked specifically that this incident should not be allowed to be blown out of proportion and/or…to disrupt our community…We have no further comment on this topic.”
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.