Sparta whistleblower lawsuit settled for $300,000 – new jersey herald –

SPARTA — Three months after a pump station operator formerly employed by the township was paid $300,000 to settle his claims of an alleged conspiracy to rig drinking water test results, officials still won’t say whether the claims were true.

The whistleblower lawsuit, which was filed by Mark Nelson in May 2013, accused Municipal Utilities Director Phil Spaldi of ordering Nelson to increase the treatment for excess lead and copper in the water just prior to required testing so as to produce “good” or acceptable test results.

Nelson, an 18-year employee, alleged that he immediately notified his direct supervisor, Michael Sportelli, that doing so would be improper and that samples sent to the lab for testing should be consistent with the water being distributed to the general public.

Nelson alleged that he was subsequently retaliated against by Spaldi and Sportelli in the form of disciplinary actions that included being written up six times by Sportelli for “job performance deficiencies” and being removed from further testing for lead and copper, for which the responsibility was transferred to Sportelli.

As further evidence of alleged retaliation, Nelson charged that he was directed by Sportelli, during a lightning storm, to climb the Alpine Water Tank to work on an electrical panel on the tank while the storm was underway.

Also named in the lawsuit was former Township Manager David Troast, who was accused of ignoring Nelson’s written documentation of these and other concerns. Canadian direct insurance contact Troast, who is now the city manager for Hackensack, told the New Jersey Herald in a recent phone conversation that he was pleased the matter had been settled but declined further comment.

However, despite the settlement having been concluded nearly three months ago, its existence was not publicly announced until it was revealed recently on the “NJ Civil Settlements” website of John Paff, an open government advocate who monitors settlements paid out by New Jersey municipalities, school boards, and other public entities.

Under a confidentiality clause included as part of the settlement, the parties further agreed that any inquiry would receive a response to the effect that “all matters have been amicably resolved.”

Sparta Mayor Christine Quinn, in a phone conversation Wednesday, cited the confidentiality provision and said she was unable to comment because of it. Call direct line car insurance Phone calls to Deputy Mayor Molly Whilesmith and Township Attorney Tom Ryan were not returned.

Township Manager William Close — who was not employed in Sparta when the events described in the lawsuit allegedly took place — indicated the township directly contributed $60,000 of the settlement’s $300,000 cost, with the remainder being paid by the township’s insurance carrier.

Caryn Shinske, a spokesperson for the state Department of Environmental Protection, indicated that the township’s water quality testing and results are all self-reported. What is direct insurance She indicated that the DEP also does routine inspections every two years and that inspections dating back to 2012 have found Sparta to be generally in compliance.

However, further test results on file with the DEP indicate spikes in the levels of lead and copper for the Lake Mohawk water system were reported in 2007.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, lead — even at low levels — can bioaccumulate in the body over time and can have lasting health effects, particularly in young children, where it has been found to cause nervous system damage, impaired hearing, learning disabilities, shorter stature, and impaired formation and functioning of blood cells.

In late 2012, according to Nelson, officials refused to do anything even after a complaint was lodged by a water customer of a blue-green stain in a sink, which Nelson said could have indicated the presence of excessive lead or copper. Open and direct car insurance newtownards A “water sample should have been taken from the complaining customer’s home, but it was not,” according to the lawsuit.

Nelson further alleged that when he later expressed concern about pH levels in the water — a low pH level, he said, could indicate acidity, which could cause pipes to corrode and cause lead or copper to leak into the water supply — he was told by way of a December 2012 email from Spaldi that the “level the (pH) should be before being delivered to customers is my decision, not yours.”

The settlement with Nelson marks the third “confidential” settlement involving Sparta — the other two involved the Sparta Board of Education — to be revealed in the last month by Paff.

In the other two settlements, a former Sparta school custodian’s discrimination and wrongful dismissal suit was settled for $50,000, and a former student’s lawsuit accusing school officials of negligence in the matter of a student assault was settled for $85,000.

Paff, a board member of the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government, has long spoken out against confidential settlements of this type involving government entities, believing that they impede the public’s right to be informed about important matters involving their tax dollars.

He noted that in all of these cases, none of the allegations was proven or disproven, suggesting the allegations may have had merit or that the settlements may have been undertaken to avoid the greater cost of trying the cases.

All that is known for sure, he noted, is that the town and school board and their insurer decided, for reasons known only to them, that they preferred to pay out money than take the cases to trial.

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