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Princeton sewer department employee fired as investigation into allegations of dumping, misuse of workers, equipment continues

8 mins read
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Dirt, concrete and asphalt dumped at the sewer department facility on River Road in Princeton. The site contains wetlands and is near the Millstone River.

A municipal worker in Princeton was fired Thursday morning as the investigation into the alleged misuse of town property, equipment and employees at the local sewer department continues.

Princeton Administrator Marc Dashield released a statement about the ongoing investigation Thursday morning.

“The Mercer County Prosecutors Office is overseeing the investigation into alleged misconduct at the sewer operating division with the cooperation of the Princeton Police Department,” reads the statement. “As a result of preliminary findings from this investigation, the municipality terminated one employee this morning. There may or may not be further actions taken. Because the ongoing investigation involves this individual, the municipality will not be releasing his name at this time.”

Planet Princeton has identified the employee who was fired as Tom Hughes, the manager of infrastructure and operations at the sewer department. Hughes could not be reached for comment. Hughes and his department are overseen by Bob Hough, the director of infrastructure and operations for the municipality.

Questions from a Planet Princeton reporter two weeks ago and a story by the reporter last week triggered the investigation regarding operations at the sewer department, which is located at 298 River Road near the border of Rocky Hill and Kingston. Town officials initially told Planet Princeton the allegations could be a “misunderstanding” or a “misperception.”

The municipal site, funded by taxpayer dollars, has allegedly been used by at least four private contractors as a dumping ground and as a source for cheap equipment and labor for at least one company. Hughes allegedly received kickbacks in exchange for the use of the land for dumping and the use of the other resources.

Planet Princeton received tips from various sources, including some town employees, about the alleged dumping and misuse of equipment and staff members, and obtained photographs and videos of dirt being dumped at the public site. The reporter followed trucks loaded with dirt from a job to the site, and also went out during daytime business hours and observed municipal employees and town vehicles at private job sites. Employees said the work they did for the contractors on many occasions was not work that was part of the scope of their jobs as town employees.

Visitors to the 100-acre site can see, as the reporter did, mountains of dirt and asphalt. Piles of milling materials, allegedly dumped at the site by a contractor, still remain in the same spot two years later. About 40 truck loads of dirt are also piled up at the site from the Mary Moss Playground in downtown Princeton. The town paid a contractor to renovate the park last year. Dirt allegedly was dumped at the River Road site last summer, even though the contract for the job specified that the dirt disposal was the contractor’s responsibility. The contractor has claimed that the dirt was dumped on private property. But in a video of a truck dumping dirt at the River Road municipal facility that was obtained by Planet Princeton, a truck driver acknowledged that the dirt was from the playground. An employee alleged that Hughes allowed the contractor to dump the dirt for $75 cash per truckload.

As recently as Memorial Day weekend, a new pile appeared — a truckload of dirt and asphalt from a private job on Dodds Lane. The contractor was given a key to the gated site and had access when employees were away for the holiday weekend.

Even if the town had authorized the dumping, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has strict regulations about the disposal of concrete, asphalt and other materials, which must be dumped at special facilities. The dumping also raises questions about supervision. Anyone who visits the site can see the piles of dirt and asphalt.

Employees said one contractor allegedly is allowed to use municipal sewer department vehicles and workers for private jobs. For example, employees and a $300,000 sewer department vehicle called a jet truck allegedly have been deployed to some jobs to help a private contractor install new sewer lines for homeowners.

Employees also have alleged that:

-Stone purchased by the town allegedly has been used for a private driveway and also given to a private contractor in exchange for cash.

-Parts for a bulldozer allegedly were purchased with taxpayer dollars, then given to a contractor in exchange for cash

-Piping materials allegedly have been given to a local developer of teardown properties in exchange for cash

-Municipal gas allegedly was used for personal purposes and the employee regularly filled up a gas can to take gas home for a family member.

In response to the questions from Planet Princeton two weeks ago, Dashield said the municipality uses the River Road site to stage and store soil, rock and road milling for and from various municipal projects. In some cases, the materials are used by private contractors when they are completing municipal projects, including projects by one of the contractors in question. He also said contractors are allowed to have access to the site after hours and use the River Road site to stage their material and their equipment for municipal projects, and that the town allows the contractors to stage materials at River Road for future projects.

In order to provide exceptional service to residents, sewer operating  employees will work with the homeowners and contractor, Dashield said. They may help identify issues in the municipal portion of the sewer, or the portion that has been installed by the municipality. The corrective work would have to be done by a private contractor though, Dashield said.

A “hotbox” that runs on propane and keeps asphalt hot all day. Workers for a private contractor allegedly put diesel in the machine to clean it out and let the diesel leak onto the municipal site.

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Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

24 Comments

  1. The frustration that constituents have might cause some to generalise and hurt the good employers that I am sure exist and who are witnesses of the incompetence coming from the top.
    Still, waiting to hear from those in charge, they should own their mistakes, acknowledge the mess, and inform what is happening. If they choose not to answer via Planet Princeton, the outlet that exposed the issue, is kind of bizarre, looks strange like if they are ignoring it, which of course, makes things worse. My perception is that it is on them and they do not have the guts, so they are confirming their lack of leadership skills and how incompetent they are which, at the end, is the unanimous opinion in this thread.

  2. @flush the toilet – It is disrespectful to say, “No person or employee in this entire town has the slightest shred of respect for any of you”. I would have loved to see the level of paranoia and insecurity oozing from your finger tips as you sat and wrote your comment. Don’t let the accused actions of a few take away from individuals who have given back and dedicated themselves to this community. They choose to live and raise their families here for a reason. I hope one day your brain can comprehend complex matters in a way you can evaluate them strategically and form an opinion on your own and not be jaded by others opinions. Comments like this do not help in a situation like this. If anything, people who say stuff like this are the ones who have no respect for their own community. One love!

  3. @flush the toilet, It’s a little disrespectful to say “No person or employee in this entire town has the slightest shred of respect for any of you, that’s a fact”. I’d love to see your level of paranoia and disrespect oozing out of your finger tips as you sat and wrote that. Don’t let the accused actions of a few ruin your perception on the many who have given back to this community and choose to live their lives with their families here. Next time write with your brain, not your temporarily altered perception.

  4. If you like that a journalist is doing the work to identify and publicize stories like this, consider supporting her financially to do more. Make a donation, however modest.

  5. The leadership of this town doesn’t have to divulge any particulars or details until the investigation is complete and charges have been filed. However, acknowledging that this investigation is occurring, that they are in contact with the proper authorities, and that their intention is to resolve this situation is perfectly acceptable to say despite any attorney’s advice. They are hiding under a rock waiting to slither out from under it and scurry away before the public notices or fails to remember. This is pathetic behavior from any leader in any capacity. They should all look forward to being replaced, these people are not up to the task. The employees they currently have in place should meet the same fate. No person or employee in this entire town has the slightest shred of respect for any of you, that’s a fact not a perception Mr. Dashield and company.

  6. We have only heard from Mr Dashield so far.
    Where is everybody who happen to always be at the photo op events?
    Even though the excuse now might be that conveniently an “investigation” is on, or lawyers’ advice is to not comment, it is time to put aside those pink glasses everybody! It is looking quite bad. Somebody has to have the guts to speak up and admit the huge mistake after mistake that continuously occur, that there is a chronic institutional issue concerning proper governance. The silence from the government body is deafening.

  7. This has to come back on Director Bob Hough. There’s no way he could have not seen or heard of this over the course of several years. Somebody who gets paid by this town needs to do something for once before this gets any worse. Jobs, pensions, and professional licenses need to be taken away, anything less is insulting to the public. This is disgusting behavior by anyone’s standard. The public and the environment got violated by people who got paid to do it, punishment needs to be as severe as possible and we need to know about it. Thank you Krystal and please stay on this one.

  8. Mayor Lempert, the Public Works Council liaisons (past and present), Mr. Dashield, and Mr. Hough all owe the taxpaying residents of Princeton substantially better performance than any of them apparently are providing. What action was taken to recoup anything from Council’s lawyers for their reported failure to get the proper sign-offs in the original Dudeck settlement? What monies are being recouped from the vendor for the parking meter fiasco? What are you doing to address the traffic disaster that your unilateral decision to close Terhune and put a private gas station in perhaps the worst location in town has created, and how much is rectifying that going to cost us? And significantly in this case, did any employees try to bring what was going on at the sewer authority to either a manager or any member of the governing body before going to Planet Princeton? (I join so many others in thanking Krystal for her extraordinary reporting.) If they did and were ignored, the person(s) to whom they reported should be fired outright. If they did not because they were afraid of the repercussion they would face, shame on all of you. Bike lanes, parklets, self-contained composting, etc. are all nice and may look great to your progressive state and national colleagues. But you all need to do your real jobs first; serve as financial stewards and fiduciaries for the people who live here. Enough is enough.

  9. This needs to be resolved in its entirety right now. Too many people have gotten away with this type of corruption and this town and state can no longer afford it. People need to be held accountable and be punished so it’s deters others from being tempted to take advantage of their positions. This hurts everyone involved and the environment just for good measure. This is not some minor infraction or bad judgement by an employee, this is crime. No deals for any of them. Don’t screw this up Princeton.

  10. This is not a white people problem. This is a matter of blatant complacency and rampant incompetence from those in charge, disregard for taxpayers, and a “policy” of sweeping all scandals under the rug.

  11. This is not a white people issue. This is about complacency and incompetence from those in charge, complete disregard to taxpayers, and a “policy” of sweeping problems and scandals under the rug.

  12. @suspend others agree- hopefully police are thinking this too and working quickly

  13. So middle manager gets fired and we don’t imagine higher ups knew anything? Hopefully being looked into and why haven’t the supervisors of dept been put on some kind of paid leave while investigating? What just keep them there to maybe cover their tracks or convince others to protect them or cover stuff up? They should be gone until this is investigatted and if innocent then come back.

  14. There’s more than just one person responsible here. Justice is owed to the public, they got away with it for years, we deserve those years back. Taking their pensions can contribute to the cleanup costs, which I’m sure will be lofty. The police better not get lazy on us either, being satisfied that one person got caught and they can move on. All the computer and camera footage should’ve been seized immediately and I’m sure many more stories lie in that footage. There’s no easy way out of this for all parties involved, a lot of time and money will be wasted on this and the public deserves its due.

  15. It is clear that there is mismanagement and theft from taxpayers at the municipal level. It would be worth relooking at why the composting program after collecting money and being such a focus was also shut down. Are we really to believe that this is the only stealing from the taxpayer that is going on? We can only hope as taxpayers that the city will continue to ask for further investigations into the county finances which are equally corrupt or worse and that the county in exchange will continue to prosecute our relevant municipal workers and their leadership. Both the county and the municipal government are stealing from the taxpayers and need to be brought back in line to bring our property taxes back down to reasonable levels post consolidation.

  16. I suppose more people will be fired in the coming days, it is only logical, this can’t be a one person’a doing, more people are sure involved. Also, supervisors and heads, they need to be held accountable as all this has happened on their watch.

  17. I can’t believe this is the only news outlet covering this story. The story and Krystal’s reporting more recognition especially with something as important and stunning as this. Mayor Lempert really must not want her job either, not a leader’s bone in her body, shameful!!!!!!!

  18. I’m sure a deal has already been made at Princeton’s expense of course. Hope you don’t let this story fade away Krystal. I’m sure there’s more to it than this as well. The mayor, police, prosecutors office, and DEP should make a statement regarding this story so the public is aware. We pay your salaries too and deserve an explanation.

  19. I doubt there is only one employee involved. And his firing should not stop the questioning and the investigation. Don’t tell me management did not notice piles of stuff appearing on the ground at the sewer plant of vehicles being used in town.

Please share your thoughts on this story.

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