Lawsuit challenges nepotism law
Beacon Police Officer Richard Sassi, Jr. has filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Beacon after being denied a promotion in the Beacon Police Department. Sassi is suing the City of Beacon, Mayor Clara Lou Gould, City Administrator Joe Braun, and six city councilman, alleging he was denied the promotion to detective in retaliation for disagreements his father, Beacon Police Chief Richard Sassi, has had with the City Council.
â€œThe only reason the city passed this law was because of me,â€ said Officer Sassi. â€œIt doesnâ€™t apply to anyone else working for the city. Personally I donâ€™t think Beacon should have an anti-nepotism policy. A private company is a different situation than a police or fire department, where thereâ€™s a standard process for promotions. The New York State Department of Civil Service sets the criteria for promotions, and that should be the standard the City Council uses.â€
In seeking unspecified damages from the City and individuals named in the suit, Sassi claims he has been â€œbarred from any promotional opportunities by reason of his fatherâ€™s expression of opinions and concerns regarding matters of public importance; has been skipped for promotion by reason of his fatherâ€™s First Amendment-protected speech; and has been humiliated, public embarrassed [sic], subjected to per se defamation, held up to public ridicule, impaired in his professional career, damaged financially, rendered anxious and upset, and otherwise rendered sick and sore.â€
The original complaint was filed in mid-December, but an amendment was added in early January to include the defamation charges against City Councilman Kyriacou.
In June 2005 the Beacon City Council passed a law designed to prevent favoritism amongst relatives of city employees. The statute, officially referred to in the city code as â€œArticle III Hiring of Relativesâ€, made it illegal for a city employee to work within a department under the supervision of a relative. The statue defines a â€œrelativeâ€ as the mother, father, son, daughter, husband, or wife of the employee.
Beacon Mayor Clara Lou Gould explains that the statute was necessary to make sure there was no preferential treatment among employees of the city or citizens seeking city services. â€œItâ€™s fair to the people who are working for the city,â€ she said. â€œBut itâ€™s also fair to the people coming in and looking for services. It puts everyone on a level playing field.â€
â€œWeâ€™d been discussing this for years and finally decided the cityâ€™s Code of Ethics didnâ€™t properly cover the issue,â€ said Mayor Gould. â€œThere were husbands and wives involved, so we thought it would be sensible to have legislation. We finally felt it would be fairer and clearer to put it in law.â€
Over the past few years there has been a public feud between Chief Sassi and the City Council over management of the police department budget. Sassi supports his sonâ€™s lawsuit, and believes the decision not to promote his son was in retaliation for his outspoken stance on budgetary issues. â€œI think it relates back to the problems Iâ€™ve had with the city administration and previous city councilâ€™s lack of support for the Beacon Police Department,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™ve been very vocal about budget cuts and under funding that have resulted in staff cuts and reduction in services such as the K9 units. The public has a right to know how their services have been affected by these decisions.â€
â€œWe worked hard to get the city into a relatively safe environment to live in,â€ said Sassi. â€œYou start chipping away at the staff levels and things take a turn for the worse, as youâ€™re seeing now on Main Street. Business owners complain about drug deals and other illegal activity â€“ itâ€™s not being protected as it was 5 years ago.â€
According to Chief Sassi, his son Richard started with the Beacon Police Department in August 2001. Prior to that he spent a year with the Ellenville police department, and before that he worked part time with the Fishkill police department and the New York State Police. The Chief did not sit in on the interview process for the other candidates but he reviewed the choices put forward by the hiring committee. â€œEven though Rich has only been with us for 5 years,â€ he said, â€œbased on his arrest rate, his conviction rate, his interaction with the different agencies, and his ability to develop a case — he stood out as the top candidate.â€
City Councilman Lee Kyriacou, one of the individual defendants in the lawsuit, disagrees with Sassiâ€™s conclusions. â€œNepotism doesnâ€™t apply here because Officer Sassi wasnâ€™t qualified enough for the job. The officer who got the promotion, Jose Rios, has been with the Beacon Police Department for 17 years. Heâ€™s bi-lingual. He received an award for heroism from the Governor for saving a babyâ€™s life. Heâ€™s the only guy who had detective training on the list of candidates. We appointed the best person, without question.â€
â€œOn the other hand,â€ said Kyriacou, â€œOfficer Sassi has no detective training, is not bi-lingual, and did not get an award for heroism. The only thing that puts him above the rest is his last name. Either weâ€™re afraid of the suit and we appoint the person who isnâ€™t qualified, or we do the right thing and he sues us. Itâ€™s a catch-22.â€
The suit specifically names the Mayor, City Administrator, and six current and former members of City Council (Fred Antalek, Lee Kyriacou, Deanna Leake, Eleanor Thompson, Sam Way, and Mike Fasano). But it also names the City of Beacon.
Who would cover the cost if a decision is reached against the city? â€œThe city has insurance to cover things like this,â€ said Mayor Gould. â€œBut the tax payers would end up paying the higher insurance premiums.â€ A call to City Attorney Gerald Pisanelli was not returned.