"As a taxpayer, I’m here to voice my frustrations as to problems within the city’s DPW,” resident Mike DiSalvia said Monday during a 15-minute open microphone session that takes place at the end of Public Hearings at City Council meetings. Council members are not to respond to questions posed, but citizens are allowed to comment about city government issues.
DiSalvia said a recent news segment reported by Walt Buteau of WPRI Channel 12 prompted him to attend the meeting and express his feelings. The segment revealed possible theft of loam (soil composed of a mixture of sand, clay, silt and organic matter) occurring at the Department of Public Works.
After Buteau and his cameraman conducted undercover surveillance that began in August and wrapped up in September, Buteau reported last week that Target 12 filmed Compost Facility Senior Equipment Operator Dan Conley “on multiple occasions … driving and parking a pair of privately registered trucks on city property near the compost facility on Sandy Lane. The trucks were loaded several times with what appeared to be loam, which Conley then hauled from the facility.”
Cameras revealed that Conley was taking “what appeared to be
several loads of loam from the city’s compost facility for a landscaping project in a private yard.”
The news team followed Conley to the Warwick home of Robert Mattox, “and watched as the truck dumped the dirt in the driveway. About an hour later, the empty dump truck was parked in front of a home that tax assessor’s records indicate is owned by Conley.”
Buteau interviewed Conley, who repeated, “I have no comment,” but eventually said, “It’s not okay to take that [loam]. And that’s not what it is,” while Mattox said he grew grass in that soil. “It’s just topsoil,” Mattox said.
But Conley was adamant in saying the dirt he delivered to Mattox was compost. Compost is free to residents. According to Buteau, “a sample of what was in the back of one of the dump trucks is light-brown in color with a fine texture. A sample of the free compost obtained by Target 12 was black and chunky with twigs and leaves in it.”
Mattox told Buteau that while he knew Conley was a city employee, he was not aware that the soil was owned by the city. He also said that Conley delivered five loads of the soil to his home and did not pay Conley for it.
When Warwick Beacon reporters visited Conley’s home Tuesday evening, he said, “Oh, screw,” and proceeded to slam the door in their faces. Reporters also stopped by Mattox’s home, where Maddox told them he had no comment.
As of Tuesday, Warwick Police were investigating the situation. Col. Stephen McCartney had nothing to report. He asked anyone with knowledge about the situation to contact the department.
At the council meeting, DiSalvia said he would like to see the council put forth a resolution that would give a full audit of the DPW, as well as a full inventory of the department.
“Correct me if I am wrong, but the city runs as a business and from my experience doing audits, everything is inventoried, not just items that have a high value,” he said. “When Wal-Mart, for example, does their yearly inventories, I can guarantee that they don’t tell the company performing the inventory, ‘Don’t inventory anything under $5.’ No – everything is counted, from a penny item, to the most expensive item.”
He went on to say that he is fed up that certain employees of the DPW feel entitled to city property.
“The days of the workers taking what they want at the taxpayers’ expense must stop and stop now,” he said.
DiSalvia contacted a Beacon reporter Tuesday and said that he felt harassed by DPW workers at the meeting, including Terry DiPetrillo.
Moments after the meeting, DiPetrillo walked by DiSalvia as a Beacon reporter was interviewing him and DiPetrillo said, “You’ve got to learn how to read,” as DiSalvia read his comments from a sheet of paper to the council. The reporter also heard DiPetrillo’s comment.
Upon exiting City Hall, DiSalvia said other DPW employees he could not identify were also heckling him.
“I felt like they were trying to put me in a position to make me look like the bad guy,” DiSalvia said. “I just ignored them. They can say what they want. Words are words. I’m not interested in getting involved in that. I was there to voice my opinions. That’s my right under the First Amendment.”
DiSalvia believes that the DPW workers were in violation of Warwick’s Ethics and Integrity in City Government Executive Order. He also feels Conley is in violation.
On Oct. 24, Mayor Scott Avedisian issued the document, which can be accessed simply by doing a Google search of “Warwick’s Ethics and Integrity in City Government Executive Order.” Anyone with a concern is advised to call 468-4337 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to leave a confidential message.
Avedisian’s press secretary Sue Baker said police are investigating the situation, and once they conclude their investigation, their findings would depend on any potential disciplinary action involving the alleged theft.
“The city considers the allegations serious,” she said. “We’ve asked the police department to investigate any criminal activities related to possible theft of city materials. Other issues of concern that appear to be non-criminal in nature and are potential violations of the city policy would be unauthorized access to city facilities after regular hours.”
She also said if anyone felt harassed, he/she should make a formal complaint to the WPD. Visit wpri.com to read Buteau’s full report.