Town Suspends Waterways Manager

Docked 30 days for ‘unauthorized work,’ ‘reckless conduct,’ he denies charges
Bill Taylor
The East Hampton Town Board voted to suspend Bill Taylor for 30 days without pay. He has pledged to fight charges. Morgan McGivern

The East Hampton Town Board voted last Thursday to suspend Bill Taylor, the town’s waterways management supervisor, for 30 days without pay for actions taken without authorization on Sept. 4. Mr. Taylor, who is also a town trustee, was injured in the course of those actions and required hospitalization. He has denied all charges brought by the town and said that he plans a vigorous defense. 

Disciplinary charges were detailed in a document signed by Kim Shaw, the town’s director of natural resources, which stated that Mr. Taylor “punched in to work for the Town, took a Town vehicle, and drove the Town vehicle to the area of Georgica Pond” on Sept. 4, a day he was not scheduled to work, all of which constitute engaging in unauthorized work and misconduct. As waterways management supervisor, Mr. Taylor is employed by the Natural Resources Department.

Mr. Taylor does not dispute that he went to Georgica Pond on Sept. 4, as tropical storm Hermine was moving up the East Coast. In preparation, he told The Star, he went to the pond to remove fencing that had been protecting piping plover and least-tern nesting sites, and to move and secure the aquatic weed harvester leased by the Friends of Georgica Pond Foundation. The foundation, a group of pondfront property owners, is working to improve the ecological health of the pond, which has experienced harmful algal blooms in recent summers. This summer the harvester removed macroalgae, which is believed to promote the algal blooms, from the pond. 

The trustees, who manage many of the town’s waterways and bottomlands on behalf of the public, were readying for a fall opening of Georgica Pond to the Atlantic Ocean, which they do twice a year to flush it of toxins and prevent flooding. “The harvester had to be moved” to deeper water, Mr. Taylor said, “because the pond was to be opened, the water level was up a couple of feet, and if this thing was tied up where it was normally tied up, it would go aground.” He had moved it for the Friends of Georgica Pond Foundation on previous occasions, he said. 

Francis Bock, the trustees’ presiding officer, corroborated Mr. Taylor’s account. “We were concerned about property damage and the septic systems” around the pond, he said. “I got a call from Sara Davison,” executive director of the Friends of Georgica Pond Foundation, “looking for Bill, because the harvester was out there and she was concerned it could be grounded by the opening. I asked Bill to give her a call. Sara asked him about helping with that. He had done it previously.” 

While wading in the pond, Mr. Taylor suffered a severe cut to his foot that required “three or four days” in the hospital, he said. “Then I went back to work, and nothing occurred. Then, all of a sudden I get a letter from the town attorney, a couple of months later.” 

According to the document signed by Ms. Shaw, the harvester, which has since been removed from the pond, was neither owned by the town nor within its control, and the town had not performed a hazard assessment and did not possess safety instructions. Mr. Taylor, it continues, was not wearing proper protective clothing, and his conduct was “reckless.” Moreover, the Natural Resources Department had taken the position that the pond should not be opened to the ocean before October, contrary to the trustees’ position. 

In his defense, Mr. Taylor pointed to the town code pertaining to natural resources, specifically language with respect to the department’s powers and duties. The department “shall be focused on the preservation, protection, and conservation of the Town’s natural features, resources, and systems, both by providing leadership and by providing assistance to other departments, entities and individuals” reads one section. 

To that end, he said, his actions were justified. The town, he said, “is working through a cooperative effort with the Nature Conservancy, the town board, the trustees, the Friends of Georgica Pond Foundation, and the village to rid the pond of harmful algae, and to try and secure a dredge permit to allow accumulation of sand at the southern end to be removed.” 

Mr. Taylor filed a response to the town on Tuesday in which he disputed all charges. The Civil Service Employees Union will defend him, he said. “I intend to clear my name.” 

Ms. Davison defended Mr. Taylor’s actions. “The town authorized use of the harvester, permitted it to take refuse to the dump, and had to pass a resolution to authorize a motorized vehicle on the pond. I’m very concerned about Bill and very sorry that the whole thing happened. Everybody at Friends feels terrible about what happened.” 

Ms. Shaw referred The Star to the town attorney’s office. “We don’t comment on personnel matters,” Michael Sendlenski, the town attorney, said yesterday.