Huntington public safety director Peter Sammis resigned Monday night after his vulgar email about a female town employee came to the attention of Town Council member Joan Cergol.
Cergol and Mark Cuthbertson announced Sammis’s resignation at a press conference Tuesday morning that they called to denounce the email and the way it was handled by the administration.
The matter is expected to be on the agenda of the Town Board meeting Tuesday night at 7 p.m.
Sammis sent the email at the end of November, but didn’t begin serving the two-week suspension until the end of January. Cergol brought the matter to the public’s attention last week after learning about it from a reporter.
Cergol then sent numerous questions about the way the administration of Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci handled the matter. Among her questions was why Town Board members weren’t notified of the issue, and why Sammis wasn’t penalized until January.
“The email constituted an aggressive and highly inappropriate act of cyberbully, sexually objectifying and disparaging a female employe that should be unacceptable in anyone’s book,” Cergol said. Though the email was not sent back to the woman, Cergol said, it was still wrong, she said.
The two male employees who received it confronted Sammis about its appropriateness she said. “The employees who received the email from their superior were placed in a highly difficult position not of their choosing, and in addition to the subject female, were, in effect, victimized by the act.”
The email was in response to one sent by the town public information officer, Cuthbertson said, about a video of a pilot program to allow leashed dogs in Heckscher Park. Sammis, the two Democrats said, then replied only to two male subordinates about the original email. His reply was then flagged by the town’s IT software, which identifies crude or inappropriate language.
Cuthbertson partially paraphrased the email, quoting it as saying, “The video would be made better by a dog (pooping) on her face, or a dog (having sex) from behind.” Cuthbertson referred to the “s” word at the beginning of the sentence as the word that caught the town IT’s system’s attention..
Councilman Edmund Smyth was the only member of the board who said he knew about the email before last week, and he has stated that he believed the matter was being addressed by the administration.
Cergol and Cuthbertson both said that the Town Board had authority to hire and fire at-will employees and should have known about the matter and been involved in decisions about what to do about the situation. The administration “sought to hide behind words such as ‘confidential’ and ‘personnel’ which enabled bad judgment. This should have been a collaborative decision,” he said.
Cuthbertson said he spoke with town attorney Nicholas Ciappetta, who also serves as deputy town supervisor, which, Cuthbertson said, means he is involved in both policy and providing legal advice.
The resignation also triggers questions about who is running the public safety department.
Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci said Tuesday afternoon, “We take matters like this very seriously and we have mandatory training for all employees to address and help prevent these types of situations. The employee was dealt with harshly, immediately, and in a manner consistent with the advice of our Director of Personnel and outside labor counsel, who also advised that the Town Board’s involvement in disciplinary action was not warranted. I would remind my colleagues that outing the alleged subject of the email, and not respecting her privacy, was completely inappropriate and initiated the victimization of this employee, who was not aware of this incident before town officials ran to the press with it, which is exactly the reason why it is our policy not to comment on personnel matters.”
The town public information officer is Lauren Lembo.