Three job applicants said Town of Islip officials pressured them to decline fire marshal jobs by threatening them with code violations at their homes in order to hire preferred candidates, according to the head of Suffolk County Civil Service.
Investigator received complaints that the town used code enforcement and other “questionable practices,” including not calling interested candidates for interviews, so it could hire five temporary fire marshals for permanent positions, Suffolk Personnel Director Alan Schneider wrote to Islip Supervisor Angie Carpenter on May 27.
Schneider, who heads Civil Service, instructed the town to terminate fire marshal Michael Ippolito, who had scored 28th among the 32 Islip residents who took the civil service test, according to the letter.
Public records show that all five were hired as temporary employees in 2013, and that they received permanent jobs sometime after February. In 2015, the employees each made between $44,378 and $59,229.
Civil Service began its investigation after receiving complaints that job candidates who scored higher on the list “were coerced” into declining the jobs “by threats related to code violations,” at their homes, Schneider wrote. Those who declined jobs told investigators that there was “pressure to decline based on alleged code violations.”
A separate letter from Schneider on June 2 said the threats concerned code violations “on their homes or the homes of their parents.”
Schneider said this week he could not comment because of an active investigation by Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota.
Spota spokesman Robert Clifford did not respond to a request for comment.
Carpenter did not respond to requests for comment.
Ippolito, reached by telephone Thursday, said he had no comment. He currently works as a part-time Islip fire marshal, which is exempt from civil service rules, a town official said.
In a June 1 letter to Schneider, Islip Town Attorney Mea Knapp disputed that the town failed to contact interested candidates. She called the Civil Service investigation “seemingly groundless.”
However, Knapp confirmed that the four town employees who interviewed applicants raised the issue of potential code enforcement violations with applicants. Town officials since 2007 have issued memos saying town employees with code violations are subject to disciplinary action, she wrote.
“Fire Marshals like all public safety personnel take an oath to uphold Town Code,” Knapp wrote on June 1. However, Knapp said she would comply and terminate Ippolito.
Schneider responded on June 2 that he was “just stating the facts as we found them” after complaints from town fire departments and an elected town council member whom a source identified as Republican Trish Bergin Weichbrodt. She declined to comment.
When the town told him that no one was interested in the jobs except for the five provisional employees, “I thought that highly unusual.” He noted that three of the provisionals scores placed them between 11th and 28th on the civil service tests.
In his June 2 letter, Schneider said the civil service department “accepted Islip’s report that interview letters had been sent to all.”
Three sources with knowledge of the investigation said three candidates, some of whom lived with their parents, were told that if they did not decline the jobs, they or their parents could face code enforcement violations. They were shown aerial photos of the homes from Google Maps, including images of sheds or pools not properly cited on certificates of occupancy, the sources said.
One of the sources said the applicants were told if they accepted the job and there was a code violation at their parents’ homes, they could be terminated and permanently removed from the civil service list. The source said that the five temporary employees who received permanent positions were not scrutinized for code enforcement violations.
Town spokeswoman Caroline Smith would not answer emailed questions about whether the homes of the five provisional employees who got the fire marshals jobs were examined for code enforcement violations.
“It’s not our policy to discuss personnel matters,” Smith said in an email.
Town Public Safety Commissioner James Carney, who oversees fire marshals, and Labor Relations director Arthur Abbate did not return requests for comment.
One of the provisional fire marshals who was hired full-time, David Monthie, said he had no comment when reached Thursday. The other three provisional candidates — John Lombardo, Ronald Walker and Matthew Marshall — did not respond to calls for comment.
Civil service tests are intended to keep political favoritism and cronyism out of most government hires by requiring municipalities to hire candidates based on written test scores. Towns can give preference to town residents.
If there has been no recent test, municipalities can make “provisional” hires until a new test is administered.
Schneider wrote on June 2 that while Ippolito “may indeed be an innocent victim of all this, the basic fact that we are left with is that he did not score high enough on the exam to retain his position, and that there are clearly three willing acceptors who scored higher than he did.”