New Rochelle has no tolerance for public misconduct of any kind. We expect our employees to uphold the highest ethical standards, and when they do not, they ought to be held fully accountable. Personally, as a citizen who believes deeply in community service, I feel a sense of betrayal when anyone abuses the public trust. So the criminal allegations made this week against a City employee are very upsetting.
On June 28th, the Westchester District Attorney unsealed an indictment against Richard Fevang, who, until his recent resignation, had been the City’s Fleet Manager, a mid-level position with the Department of Public Works. Mr. Fevang is charged with 22 felony counts of tampering with public records, and 44 misdemeanor counts of falsifying records and official misconduct. Simply put, he is alleged to have circumvented the competitive bidding process for awarding repair contracts on City-owned vehicles.
City officials and members of Council have been aware of this investigation since its inception last year and have cooperated fully with the District Attorney. City Manager Chuck Strome had prepared disciplinary charges against Mr. Fevang, but withheld issuing these internal charges at the D.A.’s suggestion. Mr. Fevang resigned last week as it became known that he would be charged with these crimes.
Even if the financial implications of these actions are minimal, as seems likely, the matter is serious and is being treated as such by County law enforcement and City officials.
Unfortunately, this episode has already become fodder for an election-year sideshow. Yesterday morning, my opponent in the mayoral campaign, Richard St. Paul, held a press conference in which he called for a federal investigation of the City’s finances, asserted that others were complicit in Mr. Fevang’s alleged misdeeds, and issued a variety of other charges, all aimed at enveloping the City Administration in a cloud of innuendo and suspicion. Pretty cynical stuff, even by the standards of modern campaigns, and deeply unfair to hundreds of honest and dedicated municipal employees. I hope and believe most people recognize these sorts of partisan theatrics for what they are.
(In case you are wondering: the City’s finances are independently audited every year, no federal money was involved in this matter, and there is no evidence at this point that any other City employee was complicit in Fevang’s alleged misdeeds.)
Personnel matters in New Rochelle fall under the jurisdiction of the City Manager. Nonetheless, as Mayor, I consider myself accountable for the overall performance of our local government and for its integrity. Whenever corruption is credibly alleged, I will push vigorously to root it out, and whenever reasonable measures to improve oversight and accountability are presented, I will push for their adoption. But I also have a sense of proportion and perspective — it is wrong to implicate the culture of an entire organization based on the misconduct of a single employee … and doing so undermines our ability to meet important challenges.