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Report filed over Recycling Center confrontation: Town Attorney says employees correct on political signs

An investigation into an incident at the town’s Recycling Center involving a town councilman and Highway Department employees has been completed.

Town Attorney Bob DeStefano Jr. said Monday that a report on the investigation by an outside attorney under contract with the town will be released in a week or so when it has been reviewed “with the individuals involved.”

“There were no surprises,” Mr. DeStefano said. “And no recommendations for anyone to resign.”

The investigation was called for by the town after a confrontation between Councilman Jim Colligan and several employees at the Recycling Center on Oct. 19. The employees told the Reporter that Mr. Colligan took exception to political flags supporting President Trump on town employees’ private vehicles parked at the Recycling Center.

When Mr. Colligan insisted they remove the flags, the department employees accused him of trying to infringe on their 1st Amendment right of free speech, the employees said.

They also accused Mr. Colligan of being rude and profane, and making threats that if the flags were not taken down, “Don’t expect any more favors from me.”

Ray W. Congdon III, president of the Shelter Island Highway Benevolent Association, in a letter to the Reporter, wrote: “There can be no tolerance for an employer to use their power to suppress an employee’s Constitutional 1st Amendment Right of Freedom of Speech. Jim Colligan’s inability to recognize and control his actions is why we have asked him to resign his position on the Shelter Island Town Board.”

Asked if there would be any change of policy recommended in the report regarding political signs or flags on town property, Mr. DeStefano said, “Political activity is generally allowed for public employees so long as it does not interfere with their job duties. Private employers can make their own policies.”

Overall, Mr. DeStefano said, “There were problems, but they’re fixable.”

Mr. Colligan responded Tuesday to the news of the completed report by saying, “I have read through the report and it is fair and balanced. I need to wait for the Town Board to review and discuss the recommendations — obviously without me being present — before I would feel that it is appropriate to comment any further.”