The township council supported a decision made by the Director of the DPW to suspend one of his employees for two days this summer after the employee admitted cursing at the Chief.
The five council members present at a meeting Thursday night voted unanimously to uphold DPW Director Keith Hallissey’s punishment after seeing written explanations and hearing testimony from Hallissey, Chief Jim Batelli, and DPW employee Marc Bracciodieta about the incident, which happened July 16.
Bracciodieta, a township employee, . According to testimony from Bracciodieta, he was confronted about his comments at that meeting via a text message from his longtime friend, Mahwah Police Lt. Stuart Blank.
During his public grievance session Thursday, Bracciodieta said he received texts from Blank on Saturday, July 14, saying “u r DEAD to me” because of “your grandstanding at the meeting [about the recycling department].” The DPW worker said he attempted to discuss the texts with Blank the following Monday after delivering mail to the police department, part of his DPW duties.
During their discussion at police headquarters, Bracciodieta said Chief Batelli came in Blank’s office, asked about the nature of their discussion, and asked the DPW worker to leave the police station and continue the conversation while not on township time.
In response to being asked to leave, Bracciodieta admitted Thursday to cursing at the Chief three times – telling him he had a “bug up his a--” and twice to “go f--- yourself.”
As a result of the incident, Bracciodieta was suspended for two days without pay. He appeared before the council Thursday in an attempt to get the days reinstated, arguing that his actions were “provoked” by the police chief.
According to Bracciodieta, Batelli blocked the door after asking him to leave, “puffed up his chest,” and was yelling.
“In a perfect world, [Bracciodieta] would have responded differently to the Chief’s provocation,” union representative Mark McCart, who appealed to the council on Bracciodieta’s behalf, said. “But it is not fair that two days pay is taken from one employee while no sanctions are placed on the other.”
Batelli denied losing his temper, though he did say he was “angry, yes,” after being cursed at.
Bracciodieta requested surveillance video from the police station in order to provide visual proof of the altercation. However, township officials said no such surveillance tape exists of the area where the incident occurred at that specific time.
The DPW employee also said he has retained legal counsel to deal with the text message issue, though he has not yet lodged a formal complaint about that.
According to Batelli, an internal affairs investigation has been started into Blank’s actions. “I have to consider that this was not a police officer sending a message like that to a stranger reesident,” he said. “These are two men who had a decades-long friendship. “But, I will eventually reach a decision on this.”
Blank did not make any statements at the hearing.
According to township council President John Spiech, Bracciodieta is on his fourth appeal about the incident; the first was made to his direct supervisor Ed Sinclair, the second to Hallissey, and third to business administrator Brian Campion. All three upheld the disciplinary action, he said. Bracciodieta chose to have this fourth appeal to the council carried out during a public session, Spiech said.
Though council members expressed concern about the text message exchange, they ultimately said they decided to uphold the punishment based on Bracciodieta’s actions.
“You were wrong to tell a [township] department head that,” Councilwoman Lisa DiGiulio said. “We are a team, a community [and all of this fighting in town] is childish and stupid and has got to stop.”
Bracciodieta said he was not surprised by the decision the council made, but was glad he made the public appeal, because “it was definitely a step toward mending fences.” He said after the grievance hearing, he apologized to Batelli.
“We are going to put this behind us, and I am grateful for that,” Bracciodieta said.