Not-Guilty Finding Okayed by Town Board

The East Hampton Town Board, at its work session on Tuesday, adopted, as expected, a hearing officer’s finding that William Taylor, the town’s waterways management supervisor and a town trustee, was not guilty of any of the 14 charges of misconduct and incompetence against him in 2016, in connection with his being injured while securing an aquatic weed harvester in Georgica Pond. 

The town board had voted in November 2016 to suspend Mr. Taylor for 30 days without pay for actions taken without authorization two months earlier. On Tuesday, his 30-day suspension was rescinded, and he is to be compensated for the base wages withheld during the period. 

“I’m glad its over,” Mr. Taylor said on Tuesday. “I have always thought it never should have happened. Now we move on — we’ve got stuff to do.”

The disciplinary charges had been detailed in a document signed by Kim Shaw, the town’s director of natural resources, which supervises Mr. Taylor as waterways management supervisor. It stated that he “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, 2016, a day he was not scheduled to work.

Mr. Taylor did not deny that he had gone to the pond. As Tropical Storm Hermine moved up the East Coast, Sara Davison, executive director of the Friends of Georgica Pond Foundation, contacted Francis Bock, the trustees’ clerk, to voice concern that the aquatic weed harvester the foundation had leased to remove macroalgae was not secured and could break free during the storm. Mr. Bock relayed that to Mr. Taylor, and he offered to inspect the harvester. He said he had already planned to go to the pond to remove fencing erected to protect piping plover and least tern nesting sites, which was no longer needed.

Mr. Taylor had previously secured the harvester for the foundation. On this occasion, the town trustees had just approved opening Georgica Pond to the Atlantic Ocean, which they typically do biannually. 

 “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,” Mr. Taylor said in 2016. While wading in the pond, Mr. Taylor sustained a severe cut on one of his feet and wound up hospitalized for several days. Two months after the incident, he was notified of the suspension and charges against him. 

The harvester was neither owned nor within the town’s control, and the town had not performed a hazard assessment and did not possess safety instructions, according to the document signed by Ms. Shaw. Mr. Taylor, it continued, was not wearing proper protective clothing, and she called his conduct 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 a recommendation to the town dated Nov. 9, Eileen Powers, the hearing officer, wrote that she did not find sufficient evidence of the allegations. Moreover, she wrote, “Mr. Taylor’s decision to assist Sara Davison at Georgica Pond after he punched in to work for the town on Sept. 4, 2016, was, in my opinion, at worst an error of judgment and not an act in bad faith.” Mr. Taylor’s overlapping duties as waterways management supervisor and a member of the trustees, she added, rendered the charges “difficult.” 

While Mr. Taylor did assist Ms. Davison without clocking out from the town, as he should have, Ms. Powers wrote, “I simply do not agree that the testimony presented indicated any willful misconduct or incompetence by Mr. Taylor in diverting from his intended plan to remove fencing by responding to and checking on the harvester in Georgica Pond. . .