Riverhead Building and Planning Administrator Jefferson Murphree’s disciplinary proceeding will go on without additional disclosure of documents by the town, a State Supreme Court judge ruled this week.
In an order filed yesterday, Supreme Court Justice George Nolan dismissed Murphree’s lawsuit brought to force Riverhead Town to turn over additional documents Murphree claimed are vital to his defense of the town’s pending disciplinary action against him.
The court ruling also lifted a temporary restraining order that prevented the continuation of a disciplinary hearing begun April 17 on charges served on Murphree March 21.
State Civil Service Law, which governs the conduct of disciplinary proceedings, does not require the disclosure of the documents sought by Murphree, the court ruled.
There is no right to discovery in a proceeding pursuant to Civil Service Law §75, the order states. An employee facing disciplinary charges is entitled only to a copy of charges against him that are sufficiently detailed to allow him to defend himself, according to the order.
Murphree’s “extraordinarily broad subpoena” was “nothing more than a fishing expedition and an attempt to circumvent the fact that there is no right of discovery in a proceeding pursuant to Civil Service Law section 75,” the judge wrote.
The subpoena sought Murphree’s personnel file, documents relating to the allegations in the various charges against him, as well as “a wide range of email messages, site plans, building permits and Health Department records relating to certain projects and copies of minutes and recordings of Town Board work sessions from 2021-2022 regarding the Town’s Comprehensive Plan,” according to the decision.
The town has already provided Murphree with “thousands of pages of documents,” the judge wrote, “more than he was entitled to receive under the law.”
Murphree has been suspended since March 22 on disciplinary charges accusing him of incompetence, neglect of duty and insubordination stemming from alleged incidents occurring mostly in February, March and June of 2022. Murphree argued in the lawsuit that the charges were “politically motivated” and that he was “being made a political scapegoat.”
Murphree was suspended without pay for 30 days effective March 22, as allowed by Civil Service Law. As required by law, he has received full pay since April 22. Murphree’s annual salary in 2023 is $144,654, after a 3% increase approved for Murphree and two other department heads in January, and a 5% increase negotiated by the Civil Service Employees Association and approved by the Town Board in March.
The court order clears the way for Murphree’s disciplinary hearing to continue.
The town’s case began to present its case on April 17 with the testimony of Supervisor Yvette Aguiar. The hearing was to be continued on June 30, when the cross-examination of the supervisor was to begin. That date was adjourned adjourned to July 6 at the request of the hearing officer, who had a personal issue. It has not resumed because of Murphree’s lawsuit being filed July 3 and a temporary restraining order signed by the court July 5 prohibiting the hearing from continuing until the subpoena dispute was resolved in court.
Attorneys for Murphree and the town could not immediately be reached for comment.
In Murphree’s absence, the town temporarily assigned Riverhead Community Development Administrator Dawn Thomas to oversee administration in the Department of Land Management, which was one of Murphree’s responsibilities.
On April 4, the Town Board approved a consulting agreement with Janice Scherer of Baiting Hollow, a planner and the administrator of the Department of Land Management in the Town of Southampton, to work on the Comprehensive Plan Update with Riverhead Town planners and the town’s comp plan update consultants BFJ Planning. The agreement provides for the payment to Scherer of $160 per hour for services rendered.
The Town Board is currently considering a resolution temporarily assigning to Thomas responsibility for oversight of the comp plan update, as well as the planning and building departments, in addition to the Community Development Department and Community Development Agency. Thomas would be paid an additional $20,000 retroactive to April 1, prorated and payable monthly, according to the resolution. The measure was on the agenda of the Sept. 6 Town Board meeting, but was tabled. The Sept. 19 Town Board meeting was canceled due to lack of a quorum. The five-member board must have three members to convene and only council members Frank Beyrodt and Ken Rothwell were available to attend.
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