Jefferson Murphree, the building and planning administrator for the Town...

Jefferson Murphree, the building and planning administrator for the Town of Riverhead who is facing disciplinary charges including incompetence, is pictured in his office in 2016. Credit: Randee Daddona

Top Riverhead planning official Jefferson Murphree, who has been suspended since March due to town disciplinary charges, will be coming back to work — but with less responsibility.

Last week the town board voted to reinstate Murphree, 65, as charges of insubordination, incompetence and neglect of duty remain pending against him.

Board members also took measures at the Nov. 21 meeting to eliminate Murphree's responsibility of overseeing the building and planning departments. 

In March, Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar filed the disciplinary charges against Murphree, the town's building and planning administrator. 

Murphree served an unpaid 30-day suspension starting in March and since then has been suspended with pay. Town payroll records show he collected a salary of $137,292 in 2022. He'll continue to take home his usual salary following his reinstatement.

Aguiar has alleged Murphree mismanaged the town’s comprehensive plan update, delayed building and planning work and was insubordinate after she told him to apologize to a Jamesport civic group for comments he made at a February 2022 forum.

The disciplinary charges say Murphree remarked he never had experienced heavy traffic in autumn on Sound Avenue, “didn’t want to experience it," and hadn't visited local wineries because they were “crowded with a bunch of drunk people” and it was not his "idea of a fun time."

Manhattan-based consultants AKRF began working on the comprehensive plan in 2019. But citing a lack of progress, the town terminated the contract in June 2022 and later hired BFJ Planning, also of Manhattan, to finish the plan that's now expected to be finalized in the spring.

In the charges, Aguiar alleged Murphree failed to bring his concerns about AKRF’s work to the town board.  The charges also alleged he failed to resolve planning-related issues for projects including an indoor water park, an apartment building and an ice rink.  

Though disciplinary hearings usually are private, Murphree asked for his to be public.

“What they did was, without any warning whatsoever, with no progressive discipline, brought these charges, many of which are ancient — I mean, more than a year old — to force him out,” Murphree’s attorney, Gerard Glass, said of town officials in an interview Tuesday. “He has a 25-year unblemished record as a municipal employee.”

The hearing is expected to continue in December, according to town officials. If the charges are upheld, a hearing officer could recommend a reprimand, fine, demotion or firing under Civil Service law.

 Murphree held a similar position in Southampton Town before his Riverhead hire in 2012. 

In January, Riverhead town board members voted 5-0 to approve a 3% raise for Murphree, citing “years of service and continued dedication and hard work.”

In September, Suffolk State Supreme Court Justice George Nolan dismissed a lawsuit Murphree filed to try to force Riverhead to turn over documents he said he needed to defend against the disciplinary charges, including his personnel file, emails and department records.

In the lawsuit, Murphree described the charges as “politically motivated” and claimed he was being made a “political scapegoat.”

Nolan ruled that Civil Service proceedings are not subject to discovery rules — which govern the exchange of evidence — that apply to other court cases.

Riverhead Community Development Director Dawn Thomas temporarily took over Murphree's duties after his suspension, with the town board approving a $20,000 salary stipend for work that has included overseeing the master plan update.

At the Nov. 21 meeting, the board passed a resolution shaking up several town departments in a way that ended Murphree's supervisory powers.

Board members replaced the Department of Land Management — which he headed — with a new department that will include building, planning and community development.

 Town attorney Erik Howard said Murphree will be assigned work in the planning department.

“There’s not really any shortage of that,” he said Tuesday, referring to planning applications.

“This particular disciplinary hearing has gone on a little bit longer than I think anybody anticipated,” Howard added.  

Top Riverhead planning official Jefferson Murphree, who has been suspended since March due to town disciplinary charges, will be coming back to work — but with less responsibility.

Last week the town board voted to reinstate Murphree, 65, as charges of insubordination, incompetence and neglect of duty remain pending against him.

Board members also took measures at the Nov. 21 meeting to eliminate Murphree's responsibility of overseeing the building and planning departments. 

In March, Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar filed the disciplinary charges against Murphree, the town's building and planning administrator. 

Murphree served an unpaid 30-day suspension starting in March and since then has been suspended with pay. Town payroll records show he collected a salary of $137,292 in 2022. He'll continue to take home his usual salary following his reinstatement.

Aguiar has alleged Murphree mismanaged the town’s comprehensive plan update, delayed building and planning work and was insubordinate after she told him to apologize to a Jamesport civic group for comments he made at a February 2022 forum.

The disciplinary charges say Murphree remarked he never had experienced heavy traffic in autumn on Sound Avenue, “didn’t want to experience it," and hadn't visited local wineries because they were “crowded with a bunch of drunk people” and it was not his "idea of a fun time."

Manhattan-based consultants AKRF began working on the comprehensive plan in 2019. But citing a lack of progress, the town terminated the contract in June 2022 and later hired BFJ Planning, also of Manhattan, to finish the plan that's now expected to be finalized in the spring.

In the charges, Aguiar alleged Murphree failed to bring his concerns about AKRF’s work to the town board.  The charges also alleged he failed to resolve planning-related issues for projects including an indoor water park, an apartment building and an ice rink.  

Though disciplinary hearings usually are private, Murphree asked for his to be public.

“What they did was, without any warning whatsoever, with no progressive discipline, brought these charges, many of which are ancient — I mean, more than a year old — to force him out,” Murphree’s attorney, Gerard Glass, said of town officials in an interview Tuesday. “He has a 25-year unblemished record as a municipal employee.”

The hearing is expected to continue in December, according to town officials. If the charges are upheld, a hearing officer could recommend a reprimand, fine, demotion or firing under Civil Service law.

 Murphree held a similar position in Southampton Town before his Riverhead hire in 2012. 

In January, Riverhead town board members voted 5-0 to approve a 3% raise for Murphree, citing “years of service and continued dedication and hard work.”

In September, Suffolk State Supreme Court Justice George Nolan dismissed a lawsuit Murphree filed to try to force Riverhead to turn over documents he said he needed to defend against the disciplinary charges, including his personnel file, emails and department records.

In the lawsuit, Murphree described the charges as “politically motivated” and claimed he was being made a “political scapegoat.”

Nolan ruled that Civil Service proceedings are not subject to discovery rules — which govern the exchange of evidence — that apply to other court cases.

Riverhead Community Development Director Dawn Thomas temporarily took over Murphree's duties after his suspension, with the town board approving a $20,000 salary stipend for work that has included overseeing the master plan update.

At the Nov. 21 meeting, the board passed a resolution shaking up several town departments in a way that ended Murphree's supervisory powers.

Board members replaced the Department of Land Management — which he headed — with a new department that will include building, planning and community development.

 Town attorney Erik Howard said Murphree will be assigned work in the planning department.

“There’s not really any shortage of that,” he said Tuesday, referring to planning applications.

“This particular disciplinary hearing has gone on a little bit longer than I think anybody anticipated,” Howard added.  

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