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Complaint About Watchung DPW Apparent Hoax

Borough denies complaint from CFO's email account about DPW allegedly cleaning up Sandy debris for friends.

Watchung officials said Tuesday they will seek to determine who sent an email message from the borough account of Chief Financial Officer William Hance complaining that public works employees were doing private clean-up work for friends after Superstorm Sandy.

Borough Administrator Thomas Atkins said Hance did not send the message in question.

“We are trying to solve this thing,” he said.

The email message was sent to the “Watchung Tips” file of the Watchung-Green Brook Patch site following a Nov. 26 Borough Council meeting during which the council approved an emergency appropriation of $359,130 to cover the storm response costs incurred by the local government during the tropical storm.

The message received by Patch.com says:

“Watchung had + $300k cost in cleaning up Sandy aftermath. Investigation should be done in regards to Public Works department helping friends of theirs with cutting up/ removing trees from private property & providing gas. These costs should not come out of Watchung tax payers pockets or that of FEMA (which is US Tax payer dollars). The property owners should pay for work done on their property and goods provided to them and the Public Works department employees that supervised should be fired and have pay suspended or 'clawed-back.'

Comments in reference to your recent article.”

The file indicated the message was sent from Hance’s official borough email account:bhance@watchungnj.com.

Atkins said that when Hance was contacted Monday by a Patch reporter via seeking comment on the message included above, the financial officer immediately brought the  message to his attention.

Atkins also addressed the substance of the message concerning the possibility that borough employees were helping friends with clean-up efforts while they were supposed to be working for the borough.

He said the borough would investigate any such report and if it was found to be true, would discipline the employees, including “reporting the matter to the county prosecutor.”

He said the borough had not received any such complaints.

Since the storm passed, borough employees, and those from power companies and tree cutting firms have been working to remove branches and trees felled during the storm or threatening power lines, Atkins said. Many of the workers wear the same gear including reflective vests.  From a distance, he said, a tree trimming crew could be mistaken for a borough public works crew.

“There are a lot of orange vests out there,” he said.

Atkins  said any residents who feel a borough employee was performing work for friends during borough work hours should call him and report it.

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