A top Cuomo administration official went on the offensive Thursday against a former state Department of Transportation worker whom the agency tried to fire for speaking to the press.
During an interview with Fred Dicker of Albany radio station News Talk 1300, state Operations Director Howard Glaser outlined the specifics of a 2011 disciplinary case against Mike Fayette, much of it surrounding an affair the former Essex County engineer had with a fellow DOT employee.
Glaser accused the press of ignoring Fayette's "long record and pattern of abuse," focusing instead on the charges of improper contact with the press.
Mike Fayette, right, then the state Department of Transportation’s resident engineer for Essex County, shakes hands with Gov. Andrew Cuomo in Keene on Aug. 30, 2011, as they and other politicians and officials inspect flood damage caused by Tropical Storm Irene the day before.
(File photo — Naj Wikoff)
Former state Department of Transportation engineer Mike Fayette holds a copy of the Aug. 30, 2012 issue of the Enterprise, which contained a story about DOT’s response to Tropical Storm Irene that he was quoted in. The story prompted DOT to threaten to fire him for talking to the press without getting the necessary approval.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
"Sometimes, Fred, you get half a story when you report it quickly," Glaser said. "Sometimes you get less than half a story. I think this is one of those cases."
But Glaser twisted and blurred the facts of what were separate disciplinary cases against Fayette, focusing largely on the 2011 case even though that matter had already been resolved without Fayette losing his job. DOT documents show Fayette's past disciplinary history was a factor in the department later seeking his termination, but only after the agency filed charges against Fayette for talking to an Enterprise reporter in August 2012 for a glowing story about DOT's response to Tropical Storm Irene.
During the roughly five-minute radio interview, Glaser read, line by line, the specifics of a half-dozen charges against Fayette from a March 2011 disciplinary action. The Enterprise has since obtained a copy of the discipline notice, which says DOT planned to terminate Fayette over seven charges of misconduct and incompetence.
The charges include Internet misuse, for Fayette's using the department's Internet to access non-work-related websites for 78 hours from July 2010 to January 2011. He was charged with email misuse for sending and receiving 2,400 personal emails using the department's account, including shopping online and exchanging "sexually explicit emails with subordinate employee." DOT also accused Fayette of using a DOT vehicle for running personal errands and "to rendezvous with a residency employee at a public school building to carry on an affair."
Fayette was charged with sending 200 personal text messages and spending 1,677 minutes placing and receiving phone calls not related to his duties using his department Blackberry. The agency also said Fayette violated conflict-of-interest policies by not disclosing his relationship with the DOT employee. He was additionally charged with theft of service for the Internet and email misuse, and falsification of timesheets for claiming salary for time spent performing non-work related activities.
Glaser told Dicker that the disciplinary proceeding against Fayette was "based on a very broad series of problems." He said the media was spreading misleading information and didn't get "the full facts in this case."
It's true that some news media around the state that picked up the Fayette story, including the Associated Press, did not reference Fayette's past disciplinary record in their reporting. However, the Enterprise, which published the story on Wednesday, did mention the 2011 charges against Fayette, based solely on information Fayette provided.
When the Enterprise asked DOT about the circumstances surrounding its push to terminate Fayette for speaking to the media last week, agency spokesman Beau Duffy declined to comment.
"It's our policy not to comment on internal personnel matters," Duffy said.
During Thursday's radio interview, Dicker noted that reporters had asked DOT for information on Fayette's case but were told it was a personnel matter.
"Yeah, I'm not sure why DOT handled it that way," Glaser said. Glaser said the information from Fayette's personnel file was available to the media and could be obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request, which came as a surprise to Dicker, who said he thought that kind of personal information wasn't covered by FOIL. The Enterprise on Thursday filed a FOIL request for all disciplinary records from Fayette's personnel file.
After Glaser finished outlining the 2011 case against Fayette, he summed it up by erroneously saying Fayette didn't contest the charges and opted to retire. Fayette told the Enterprise last week that he was issued a 10-day suspension and fined 10 days' pay for the 2011 charges. His decision to retire came in the wake of the September 2012 charges DOT levied at him for speaking to the Enterprise without approval from the agency's public affairs office, charges Glaser downplayed during the radio interview.
"It is not the policy of this administration to terminate people for improper, solely for improper contact with the press. Employees talk to the press on a regular basis in the conduct of their duties, and that's perfectly fine. If that were the issue here and the only issue, there would not have been a termination."
After listening to the interview, Fayette said in an email that Glaser's comments were "completely outrageous."
"I've already had an attorney contact me suggesting I sue them," Fayette said. "Personnel matters are not FOILable and that incident was a completely separate issue that is completely unrelated to this one. For him to say that these two situations are connected is untrue and he knows that."