KINGSTON, NY — A lawsuit filed against Ulster County Legislator Joseph Maloney and Donald Markle III claims the pair slandered Charles Whittaker of the Resource Recovery Agency (UCRRA), impugning his character, integrity and competence.
The nine-page complaint dated Monday, Oct. 30, names Maloney and Markle. It claims that Maloney, D-Saugerties, a member of the Legislature’s Energy, Compliance and Sustainability Committee, called for Whittaker to be fired for “theft of compost from the Agency.”
Whittaker is employed by the Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency as its director of operations and compliance.
Reached by phone Thursday, Nov. 16, Maloney denied ever accusing Whittaker of theft but acknowledged that he has been critical of the UCRRA’s practices in regard to compost. “When you’re trying to clean things up… and you’re trying to be an agent of change, you’re going to get arrows thrown your way and, in this case, I think it’s a pretty desperate arrow,” Maloney said .
In July 2021, Ulster County Comptroller March Gallagher concluded that during the first four months of that year, Whittaker’s brother, William Whittaker, who is also a Resource Recovery Agency employee, had acquired 267 tons of the 606 tons of dirt produced in the composting operation.
The 2022 comptroller’s audit of UCRRA’s composting operations found that the agency lacked tracking procedures, risking misappropriation, theft or collusion. The audit concluded that the agency needs monitoring controls for who receives compost materials.
The UCRRA “accepts food waste which it processes and combines with wood chips to form mulch, also known as compost, which it sells to the public as it becomes available on a first-come, first-served basis,” the suit states.
But the 2022 audit found that Markle’s alleged allegations that Whittaker “was engaging in theft and lining his pockets by means of the sale of the Agency’s compound and violating Agency policies were all false,” according to the suit.
Markle could not be immediately reached for comment.
In the suit, Whittaker alleges that Maloney called Andrew Ghiorse, chairman of the UCRRA board of directors, to which Whittaker reports, and demanded that “the guys who stole the compost be fired,” according to the suit. Whittaker claims Maloney was referring to Markle’s allegations that Charles and William Whittaker “were complicit in theft of compound from the Agency.”
Maloney said he never had the alleged conversation with Ghiorse.
“Many legislators have expressed concern, including the comptroller as well, have expressed concern about the compost leaving the facility with a worker so often, to the point that … they would hang up signs that said there was no compost at the facility,” Maloney said, “and then trucks would be seen, people working at the RRA would be seen taking the compost out when they were telling the public that there was none. So, obviously, this is something we had concerns about.”
“The weird thing is that I’ve never said and I’ve never heard anyone else say anything about anyone stealing compost,” he added. “The concern was always with a valuable commodity being taken out at a low price and by someone working there. And not giving the same access to the public.”
The suit states that Markle, owner of a dump business, reported to the Legislature’s Energy and Environmental Committee that “in the course of performing his duties as a private business owner, he learned that … William Whittaker (Charles Whittaker’s brother), was regularly removing large amounts of compost from the facility in violation of the UCRRA guidelines,” an action he said “amounted to nepotism” and “theft.”
Minutes of the meeting show no mention of nepotism by Markle. According to the minutes, Markle said, “You know, in my eyes being a, you know, person of the public and a resident, it’s, it’s theft. And it’s not fair to every other resident who wants it.”
According to the minutes, Markle told the committee that Charles Whittaker and his brother were “monopolizing (compost operations) and basically lining the pockets of the head of operations, brother, who, who also works there.”
Charles Whittaker’s suit cartoons that Maloney’s alleged Aug. 24 statement to the Legislature that (Charles Whittaker) was “lining his pockets,” was “demonstrably false … since the County Comptroller had only recently completed an audit for the very purpose of reviewing the Agency’s composite practices and policies in specific response” to Markle’s allegations and had found “no evidence of theft or violation of Agency policies in the Agency’s composite operations.”
“The remarks made by Defendant Joseph Maloney on August 24, 2023 impugned (Charles Whittaker’s) integrity and competence in his trade or profession of solid waste management,” the suit alleges.
Whittaker, therefore, is seeking “compensatory, exemplary and punitive damages” against Maloney, the suit states.
Additionally, Whittaker seeks compensation for “severe emotional injury and distress” from both Maloney and Markle.
It states that “Markle’s false and defamatory remarks to the EE&S Committee in May of 2021 brought about a flurry of newspaper articles questioning what was going on at the Ulster County Resource Recovery Facility,” some of them mentioning Whittaker by name. Maloney said he was not a member of the Legislature when that meeting was held and provided the Freeman with the minutes of that meeting showing that he was not there.
“As a result of the increased focus and attention on the activities of the UCRRA,” Whittaker claims in the complaint that his “job performance as Director of Operations and Compliance has been scrutinized by his employer far beyond the level of attention it was receiving prior to Defendant Markle’s remarks.” That scrutiny resulted in the Maloney’s committee making “numerous attempts since Mr. Markle’s remarks were made to bring about” Whittaker’s termination, the suit alleges.
Whittaker’s suit claims that the increased “scrutiny” of his job performance “resulted in severe and extreme mental and emotional stress and anxiety” as the agency’s board of directors pressured the agency “to scrutinize and micro-manage” his performance.
Whittaker is seeking judgment against Maloney and Markle “in amounts to be determined at trial, together with the costs and hassles of this action and such other and further relief as to the Court may seem just and proper.”
Whittaker is represented by James B. Tuttle, who did not return messages Thursday or Friday.
It was not clear whether Markle has obtained a lawyer and he could not be reached for comment.
For his part, Maloney said he would not ask the county attorney to defend him at taxpayer expense. He anticipated that the suit would be dismissed and said he would hire his own attorney to review his response “for a couple of hundred dollars.”
“We’re not going to waste taxpayer dollars on this,” Maloney said.
Maloney and Markle have 20 days from Oct. 30 in which to respond.