FONDA - Montgomery County Emergency Management Director Gary Nestle began serving a three-week suspension without pay Wednesday, a day after his secretary finished serving a similar suspension.
According to several sources with knowledge of the matter, the disciplinary action is related to inappropriate e-mails sent though computers in the county's Emergency Management office.
Nestle's secretary, Sandra Vosburgh, was suspended without pay from Jan. 1 through Monday. Both are full-time employees, with Vosburgh's yearly salary for 2010 budgeted at almost $30,000. Nestle's yearly salary is set at $45,749. He also receives an additional $7,892 as fire coordinator.
Vosburgh refused to comment when reached at the Emergency Management office Wednesday. She did say Nestle was not in the office and was not expected back until Feb. 17, a date Emergency Management Deputy Director Rick Sager later confirmed was when Nestle would return from his suspension.
Other attempts to reach Nestle were unsuccessful.
Montgomery County Board of Supervisors Personnel Committee Chairman Thomas DiMezza refused to comment on the suspensions or on the circumstances surrounding them, but he said the committee is working on proposing an official policy on computer use in general in county office buildings.
"We do have a policy in place, we just want to revamp it," DiMezza said. "The current policy is that work computers are supposed to be used for work."
DiMezza said the county does not have a widespread problem with officials misusing their e-mail addresses, but rather that workers are bringing in their personal laptops and using the wireless services to peruse social networking sites during the workday.
County office computers are monitored by the Data Processing Department and on a server that blocks e-mail and social networking sites like Hotmail and Facebook. However, DiMezza said, the district attorney's office and the Social Services and Emergency Management departments are not on the county server, meaning there is no county oversight on e-mails sent from those offices.
DiMezza said the committee would consider placing the Emergency Management computers back on the server.
"They need to have a dedicated line to directly reach out to state data bases they use on a regular basis," DiMezza said, explaining why the office's computer wasn't on the county server.
The district attorney and social services computers are not on the server for confidentiality reasons, he said.
DiMezza said he saw that a random selection of computers at the county offices had been used for non-work related matters.
"I wouldn't say it's widespread," DiMezza said. "But if you nip it in the bud, and you do it quickly, and you take action, it doesn't become a future problem."
The Emergency Management e-mail issue came up in an executive session of the December Board of Supervisors meeting, multiple sources said.
"There are set rules for procedures and policies that the county follows," said Board of Supervisors Chairman Vito "Butch" Greco, who refused to comment further on the suspensions. He referred questions to the county's labor attorney and personnel officer.
Dionne A. Wheatley of Roemer, Wallens & Mineaux in Albany advised the board as its labor attorney on disciplinary action for Nestle and Vosburgh.
Wheatley refused to comment on the situation, citing attorney-client privileges.
County Personnel Officer Richard Baia also refused to comment on the specific circumstances surrounding the suspensions.
"I hope it's just an incident and people learn from it and we move on," Canajoharie Town Supervisor Robert F. McMahon said.
Until Nestle returns, Sager will assume Nestle's duties as director.
He said the office has not felt understaffed from the suspensions and refused to comment further on them.
Amanda Whistle covers Montgomery County. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.