ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES STAFF EDITORIAL
According to the Journal News: “A new federal lawsuit by Sgt. Stephen Cole-Hatchard against the Town Board details efforts by an “Officer T” to secretly fund Hoehmann’s bid to unseat Alexander Gromack. Cole-Hatchard claims that his questioning of the ex-officer’s $218,000 in political donations led the new supervisor to order his removal as director of the Rockland County Strategic Intelligence Unit.”
There are several questions about the circumstances surrounding Cole-Hatchard’s lawsuit.
1) This lawsuit appears to be premature as no financial damages have been incurred according to the claims in the lawsuit. The plaintiff appears to have simply been transferred to another job and he is apparently receiving full payment to do the job the Town of Clarkstown is asking him to do. Any employer can transfer an employee to other duties at any time. We would ask if Cole-Hatchard has exhausted the administrative remedies available to him if he seeks reinstatement to the specialized unit from which he was transferred?
We note that Cole-Hatchard lost a previous lawsuit against the Town of Clarkstown in which an appellate court’s ruling stated “petitioner failed to exhaust his administrative remedies before commencing this proceeding.” This ruling came down in 2004 as a result of a lawsuit stemming from an injury Cole-Hatchard suffered in 1997. SOURCE: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/ny-supreme-court/1072818.html
2) Was Cole-Hatchard doing something more than just “questioning,” as he claims in his lawsuit? If so,why was he doing it?
3) We have to assume unless proven otherwise that the donation mentioned in the Journal News article is legal even if it came from someone who may have had an axe to grind against the former supervisor. This contribution was given to the Reform Party in Westchester County. If there is a formal criminal investigation of that donation, why would the Clarkstown Police Department be conducting it? Was the CPD asked for assistance by another agency?
4) If there is a formal investigation of this donation, why would Cole-Hatchard make any comment whatsoever to a Journal News reporter either on or off the record regarding it or an ongoing investigation? WRCR reported that Sgt. Cole-Hatchard states in the suit that an “off the record” opinion he emailed to a Journal News reporter was used by town officials to remove him as director of the Rockland County Strategic Intelligence Unit and place him on headquarters duty.
5) Why would Cole-Hatchard be assigned, or independently decide, to investigate a political donation while supposedly having high strategic intelligence responsibilities related to national security and terrorism? Who, if anyone, authorized Cole-Hatchard to “question” the political donation? No news sources have indicated that donations to the Reform or Republican parties for Rockland’s 2015 races are being investigated.
This is not the first time Cole-Hatchard has put himself in the midst of drama. Many in North Rockland blame Cole-Hatchard, a Stony Point resident and former councilman, for the worst possible outcome in the Mirant tax settlement, which has cost the school district and town hundreds of millions of dollars.
In addition to his full time employment with the Clarkstown Police Department, Cole-Hatchard appears to act as a Democratic attorney. The Mirant controversy was mentioned when an attempt was made in 2011 to block Republicans from running on Independence Party Lines. A lawsuit brought by Cole-Hatchard aimed at denying Republicans the line was rejected in Supreme Court.
Cole-Hatchard brought the suit on behalf of supervisor candidate Geoff Finn and council candidate Edward Onderdonk. Not all Republican candidates were named but Supervisor Bill Sherwood, Councilman James White and Council candidate Karl Javanese were attacked in the lawsuit. The Rockland County Board of Elections was also named a defendant for ruling that the petitions were sufficient.
Sherwood said he was not surprised by the ruling. “They are notorious bullies who try and intimidate officials and voters with law suits. I am not intimidated. I suppose they have no other issues and candidate Cole-Hatchard has nothing else to do but start frivolous law suits,” Sherwood said, “I don’t know how Steve can run around with this nonsense but is unable to do his regular desk job in Clarkstown.”
Cole-Hatchard, a Town of Clarkstown detective, was at the time out on disability on full pay but was also a candidate for a Stony Point town board seat with enough energy to file frivolous lawsuits and knock on doors.
Supervisor William Sherwood won the case.
Cole-Hatchard’s LinkedIn and other profiles shows his position as a sergeant and attorney in the Clarkstown Police. It also shows that he was a Director of Xcel Brands, CEO of Frontline Communication and Chief Financial Officer for five years of HUDSON Technologies, which is run by a relative of District Attorney Tom Zugibe.
A review of Clarkstown salaries for 2015 from the ‘See Through New York’ website shows that as a Clarkstown police sergeant, Cole-Hatchard was paid $251,806 and seems to be the fourth highest police officer in the Clarkstown Police Department.
As an aside and with reference to injuries suffered by other police officers while on the job, we note a 2014 Journal News article in which it was reported that during the previous 15 years, 43 percent of retired Clarkstown officers had gone out on a disability retirement. The average for police departments across the state is 15 percent. The high number of disability awards in Clarkstown is unusual though it may not suggest that any officer in Clarkstown has received disability payments erroneously. Clarkstown may simply be a statistical outlier.
The article goes on to say “Of the 63 Clarkstown officers who retired from 1998 through 2012, 27 of them received disability retirement, meaning they claimed a job-related injury that entitled them to 50 or 75 percent of their salary TAX FREE. Clarkstown is an extreme example of a trend evident throughout the Lower Hudson Valley, where more than 24 percent of all police officers and firefighters who retired during that period received a disability pension. That high number reflects a system where disability retirement is a better financial deal than returning to work.
“In Clarkstown’s case, the size of those salaries also sets the municipality apart. Its police officers are the second-highest paid in New York, according to an August 2013 report from the Empire Center for New York State Policy. The average salary in the 163-member department was $161,102, second only to neighboring Ramapo at $162,392.
“That’s a frustrating double-whammy for taxpayers like Gerry O’Rourke of the Congers Civic Association. He said 43 percent “seems strange” and questioned how well the town monitors the situation. “The taxpayers are overburdened for sure in Clarkstown,” he said. “Who is working on changing what’s going on? I don’t have any question about the work the police do and I’m not saying they don’t deserve good pay. My question is the pay and benefits… like this seem excessive.”
Supervisor Hoehmann called Cole-Hatchard’s lawsuit “sad and desperate.” He said he was elected to reform government and he was not going to be threatened or cowed from doing what he was given a mandated to do.
Apparently the cost of reform in Clarkstown comes with a very high price.