Several weeks ago, on June 28th, Talk of the Sound reported on the latest example of how public officials in New Rochelle manipulate the municipal civil service commission to cut deals and reward members of the “friends and family” network.
To get caught up and fully follow this story open up the previous story in a new window/tab in your browser by clicking this link: How Municipal Corruption Works in New Rochelle: A Case Study from the New Rochelle Board of Education’s Painter-Working Foreman Position
The short version is that after the previous Painter Working Foreman retired in 2009, the position was given to Anthony Paganico contingent on him meeting the requirements which included demonstrating that he had 2 years prior experience as a supervisor and that he passed the civil service exam for the position. An exam was offered on April 9, 2010 but abruptly cancelled by New Rochelle Board of Education Buildings & Grounds Supervisor John Gallagher on the grounds that no one had signed up to take the exam. This was a week after it was first offered, a month before the deadline to sign up and two months before the exam was scheduled to take place. A FOIL request by Talk of the Sound revealed that between January 1, 2009 and June 15, 2011, the only two documents related to this exam were the exam notice (below) and a memo from Gallagher requesting the exam be cancelled.
In June 2011, the New Rochelle Board of Education approved a resolution making Anthony Paganico permanent in the position based on a “recommendation” by the Civil Service Commission. Paganico did not have the required supervisory experience and never sat for, let alone passed, the required civil service exam. Talk of the Sound raised questions about this in the article on June 28th. On August 4th, the Civil Service Commission announced a new exam based on a new job description. The new job description removed any reference to requiring two years of supervisory experience:
VACANCY: The eligible list established as a result of this examination will be used to fill appropriate vacancies as they occur in the City School District of New Rochelle.
MINIMUM QUALIFICATIONS, EDUCATION AND EXPERIENCE: Candidates must meet the following requirements on or before the date of the written examination:
CANDIDATES MUST BE PERMANENTLY EMPLOYED IN THE CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT OF NEW ROCHELLE AND MUST BE SERVING AND HAVE SERVED CONTINUOUSLY ON A PERMANENT BASIS FOR NOT LESS THAT TWENTYFOUR (24) MONTHS PRECEDING THE DATE OF THE WRITTEN EXAMINATION IN THE POSITION OF PAINTER: AND Graduation from a standard high school course or possession of an equivalency diploma issued by the State Education Department of New York.
Stephen Estes, Deputy Commissioner of Personnel for Tompins County, NY has written an excellent history and overview of the Civil Service in New York State. Estes traces the history of the origin of the Civil Service in New York State as a way to combat the hiring of unqualified persons under the “spoils system” and the long-standing effort of local governments to circumvent the Civil Service Law:
1894 was a landmark year for civil service in New York State. A constitutional convention was called and some changes were made to the constitution of New York State. Elihu Root and Joseph Choate used their influence at the constitutional convention to insert a seemingly innocuous statement into Article V, Section 6 of the Constitution of New York State. On the surface, the statement was so uncomplicated and innocent that few could see any possible reason to vote against it. As a result, article V, Section 6 of the Constitution was modified to read: “Appointments and promotions in the civil service of the State and all of the civil divisions thereof, including cities and villages, shall be made according to merit and fitness to be ascertained, as far as practicable, by examination which, as far as practicable, shall be competitive, …” Little did the politicians of New York State understand the far reaching implications that this simple little sentence would have on appointments in New York State.
The New York State Civil Service Law is built on this constitutional foundation which clearly spells out the obligations of public officials:
The “Duties of Public Officers” begins at Section 95 of the Civil Service law. This is the section of law of which most towns, villages and school districts would prefer to remain blithely unaware. Section 95 directs “all officers of the state or any civil division thereof to conform to and comply with and aid in all proper ways in carrying into effect the provisions of civil service law.” Section 96 indicates that a public officer can not require an employee to sign any document waiving the rights provided by civil service law. Section 97 requires appointing officers to conform to the letter of the law and local rules. It directs them to appoint competitive class employees from eligible lists and to report all appointments made in any classification to their local civil service office for tracking. Subsection 2 of this rule requires the personnel officer or civil service commission to maintain an official roster of employees in all civil divisions under its jurisdiction.
The Municipal Civil Service Commission of New Rochelle is run by a Chairperson appointed by the Mayor. The Chairperson appointed the position of Civil Service Administrator until recently after the former CSA was “unexpectedly resigned” and Talk of the Sound revealed that CSC Chairperson was taking improper STAR and Combat Veteran tax exemptions for a property on Pinebrook Road. Mayor Noam Bramson appointed Domenic Procopio to this position and has continued to maintain that Procopio is doing a “fine job” as Commissioner despite getting caught cheating on his New Rochelle property taxes while serving as a New Rochelle public official. With all due respect to immigrants and English as a Second Language learners, based on his limited English-language proficiency and lack of education, it is doubtful that Mr. Procopio could pass any of the exams given by the CSC let alone understand the laws he was appointed to enforce. When he was caught benefiting from property tax exemptions intended for combat veterans, the defense offered by City officials was that Procopio could not understand the one sentence letter he received each year informing him of the amount of his combat veteran exemption. If he could not understand a single sentence that read “Combat Vet Tax Exemption $436.21” how can he expected to understand the complex legal documents surrounding civil service appointments?
Even if Procopio did understand the documents he was being asked to review and sign, his track record indicates that he is not interested, as Estes puts it, in helping employers in “hiring the most suitable candidate while ensuring the process is ‘open and fair’ for individuals competing for public sector jobs. Municipal civil service agencies bear the responsibility to bring the maximum number of qualified people into the selection process to carry out the constitutional mandate of merit and fitness ‘through competition.’” Procopio appears far more interested in finding ways to circumvent the law in order to place pre-selected candidates in positions of his choosing, to the detriment of the City of New Rochelle, the New Rochelle Board of Education and the taxpayers of New Rochelle.
City Manager Charles B. Strome has repeatedly claimed that civil service matters involving the New Rochelle Board of Education are not his responsibility. The New York State Civil Service Law makes it quite clear that not only is this not the case but under Section 95 he is required to "conform to and comply with and aid in all proper ways in carrying into effect the provisions of civil service law" and that as City Manager he has an affirmative, sworn obligation to see to it that the New York State Constitution including Article 6 is upheld. Likewise all members of the City Council, the New Rochelle Board of Education, Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak and Procopio himself have the same obligation.
Under a New York State Freedom of Information Law request, the City of New Rochelle provided only two documents pertaining to the Painter Working Foreman Exam during the period from January 1, 2009 until the present day. They did not provide any information on how the origin of the Painter Working Foreman position so we cannot tell if it comports with Section 44 of the New York State Civil Service Law:
§ 44. Competitive class. The competitive class shall include all positions for which it is practicable to determine the merit and fitness of applicants by competitive examination, and shall include all positions now existing or hereafter created, of whatever functions, designations or compensation, in each and every branch of the classified service, except such positions as are in the exempt class, the non-competitive class or the labor class.
In short, Estes says “all newly created positions are automatically created in the competitive class unless some action is taken to petition the State Civil Service Commission for approval to remove such title from the competitive class.”
Under Section 52 it might have been possible for the “appointing officer” to simply declare Anthony Paganico promoted had he taken and passed the Painter Working Foreman Exam:
Section 52.7 …Whenever there are no more than three persons eligible for examination for promotion to a vacant competitive class position, or whenever no more than three persons file application for examination for promotion to such position, the appointing officer may nominate one of such persons and such nominee, upon passing an examination appropriate to the duties and responsibilities of the position may be promoted, but no examination shall be required for such promotion where such nominee has already qualified in an examination appropriate to the duties and responsibilities of the position.
Section 52.8 specifically prohibits the step taken by the New Rochelle Board of Education in June 2011 which, under Resolution 11-348-7 made permanent a “promotional probationary appointment” without taking the required civil service examination:
No promotion shall be made from one position or title to another position or title unless specifically authorized by the state civil service department or municipal commission, nor shall a person be promoted to a position or title for which there is required, by this chapter or the rules, an examination involving essential tests or qualifications different from or higher than those required for the position or title held by such person unless he has passed the examination and is eligible for appointment to such higher position or title.
Further, there is no documentation supporting the claim of the New Rochelle Board of Education in Resolution 11-348-7 that any “promotional probationary appointment” was made for Anthony Paganico as Painter Working Foreman on April 15, 2010 or at any other time nor could such an appointment been made as Mr. Paganico never qualified for the position based on the job description irrespective of whether he ever took or passed the civil service exam -- which he did not.
In the six weeks since Talk of the Sound first reported on the illegal appointment of Anthony Paganico to the position of Painter Working Foreman, the Board of Education has had a change of heart and decided that there does need to be an exam after all. On August 4, 2011, the CSC published a notice for a new “promotion” exam which it promptly hid from public view. Talk of the Sound has since confirmed with City spokesperson Kathy Gilwit that no communications regarding the Painter Working Foreman Examination were received after June 28th, 2011 and that no new records exist. Under a second FOIL request, the City confirmed that the April 2010 exam notice and the Gallagher memo dated April 15, 2010 remain the only two public records prior to the creation of the Painter Working Foreman Examination notice on August 4, 2011. There is no record, just as in 2009-2010, that any request was made by the New Rochelle Board of Education to schedule an exam, no new job description was ever submitted even though the job description was changed to make Anthony Paganico eligible for the position (the supervisory experience was removed), there is no record that the Painter Working Foreman Examination was ever put on the agenda for the CSC or that the CSC ever discussed or approved any job description or examination for the Painter Working Foreman Examination.
While the CSC has never been asked to take any action, ever, going back to January 1, 2009, on any Painter Working Foreman Examination or Job Description, Mr. Paganico and Anthony Rigos, the person who illegally placed Paganico in the position of Painter Working Foreman, have been busy clearing the way so that there will be three or less eligible employees for the position at which point, under Section 52.7, Rigos can "legally" appoint Paganico without competition. On August 2, 2011, two days before the Painter Working Foreman Exam notice was published, Anthony Rigos made a formal complaint alleging that two of the remaining three eligible painters were stealing company time. He claims to have observed them sitting in their work van during the work day and ordered them to attend a hearing on August 5, 2011, the day after the Painter Working Foreman Exam notice was published. The two painters have denied the charges.
Talk of the Sound readers will recall how in the weeks before he was asked to testify before the grand jury in the DPW case, Pat Papallardi, the whistleblower, was brought up on charges by Richard Fevang in what had all the appearances of an effort to intimidate a witness in a criminal proceeding. Now, in the Painter case, two of the three eligible employees are brought up on charges during the same week the new exam notice was posted.
And there you have it. Just the latest example of municipal corruption in New Rochelle. Stay tuned...
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