A shake-up at Oceanside sanitation

Board cites 'scandalous conduct' after firing of two longtime workers

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The Oceanside Sanitation District No. 7’s Board of Commissioners voted at its meeting on Dec. 6 to terminate General Supervisor Dan Faust and Treasurer Douglas Hernandez, citing “scandalous conduct.”

John Manonne, the chairman of the board of commissioners, said he couldn’t disclose the reason for the decision, but noted that there was an explanation be-hind it. “If the board isn’t satisfied with their performance, they can be released,” Manonne said. “However, in this case, there was cause.”

While the board searches for permanent replacements, accountants are fulfilling the treasurer’s duties and co-supervisors are leading the department, according to Austin Graff, one of the district’s five commissioners.

Four of the commissioners voted in favor of terminating Faust and Hernandez, while Commissioner Tom Lanning opted to abstain. Graff, a local attorney, said he couldn’t comment on the decision, but referred to a post on his Facebook page from Nov. 26, which showed documents proving that former commissioner Joe Cibellis remained on the district’s dental plan from July 2016 through January 2017, even though he was no longer paying toward the benefits.

According to the post, after the mistake was discovered and he was taken off the plan, Cibellis was put back on it in April 2018, even though he was no longer a department employee. He served as commissioner from 2008 to 2016, and lost to Graff in a contested commissioner race last July, with the final tally coming nearly three weeks after the polls closed. In his post, Graff wrote that those who “turned a blind eye” to corruption would be terminated.

“For too long government in Oceanside has hidden from the taxpayers and the residents bad news and scandal,” Graff’s post read. “… Unfortunately, there is more to tell the residents about what was uncovered that has made me so angry and made me realize it’s time for people to lose their jobs over scandalous conduct.”

Reached by phone, Faust said he was blindsided by the board’s decision. “After 23 years of employment at Oceanside sanitation and having an unblemished record, I was terminated in an open, public meeting with no prior knowledge and no given reason,” he said. “I believe this is in violation of the civil service code and union contract. To this day, I still have no idea why they terminated me.”

Hernandez, who worked in the department for three decades, did not return a call requesting comment about his termination.

Faust said he was unsure if his firing had anything to do with Cibellis receiving benefits when he was no longer employed by the district, but noted that insurance “is not part of my job description.”

Faust recalled that he was shocked at the Dec. 6 meeting when he finished giving his supervisor’s report and the board discussed firing him and ultimately approved it. He added that he was proud of all he accomplished in the sanitation department, including starting paper and cardboard recycling programs, repairing the sanitation district’s grounds and updating its trucks.

Faust said he plans to appeal the decision through CSEA 880, the union that represents the district’s administrative staff. “I’ve never seen that done before,” he said. “Usually there’s a reason why you get fired.”

In his statement on Facebook, Graff said those who knew about Cibellis remaining on the dental plan would be punished. The decision came amid a push to shake up the sanitation department, which has had a history of controversy.

On Sept. 6, members of the board voted to end the practice of providing health and dental benefits to former commissioners and supervisors, a move that was aimed at stopping employees from abusing their taxpayer-funded positions to benefit themselves. At the time, Graff told the Herald that he introduced the measure because Cibellis was still reimbursing the district for the cost of health and dental benefits, which were not approved by the board, but were authorized via a letter from Hernandez.

Additionally, Graff cited the case of former supervisors Michael and Charles Scarlata — who were accused of collecting more than $800,000 in illegal deferred retirement payments, according to a state comptroller report — for calling a vote to amend the bylaws to prohibit former administrators from reimbursing the district for dental insurance premium payments. Two separate audit reports — one by the state and one by the county — also found that the Scarlatas were grossly overpaid for their services.

Graff had previously represented former and current sanitation employees in cases against the district before becoming commissioner. He represented former workers Joseph Samoles and Dennis Rockefeller, who sued the board — including Cibellis — in the hope of reclaiming funds paid to former supervisors. A Westchester county judge tossed out the suit last March.

Graff also represented Richard Zappa Jr., who claimed that he was permanently removed as a garbage truck driver and assigned loading duties despite back injuries, because he supported the chairman candidacy of Manonne in 2015. The suit is pending.

When he ran for commissioner, Graff made it clear that his platform was to put an end to financial mismanagement in the department, which he referenced in his Facebook post. “It is time to shed a bright light on corruption in Oceanside,” he wrote. “It is time people are held responsible for their misconduct. Let’s see who comes to their defense and see who is responsible for the corruption in Oceanside.”

Graff said he was optimistic for the future of the department. As of Jan. 1, loaders and drivers received a long sought after wage increase, which was calculated based on how long they worked for the department. In addition, the start time for garbage pick-up was pushed up a half hour to 6 a.m. from Monday through Saturday to avoid safety and congestion issues around the schools. “The district is looking forward to a positive, clean 2019,” Graff said.

Peter Belfiore contributed to this story.