Walter Popailo dismissed as parks director

Convention video now under investigation, supervisor says, but it wasn't the reason for termination

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  • Walter Popailo (File photo by Frances Ruth Harris)

"It has been looked at already by the town. We have our town attorney doing an investigation. We would have had a decision already, but he's on vacation, he's not here."
Supervisor Alex Jamieson

By Frances Ruth Harris

— Walter Popailo, the director of Chester's Parks and Recreation Department, was dismissed on April 19, according to town officials.

They would not give a reason except to say Popailo was still a probationary employee, and that the town board decided not to make him permanent.

Popailo was terminated after video reportedly taken of him at the NYS Association of Towns Convention, held at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square in February, was posted on Facebook. Popailo did not return several calls asking for comment.

Vincent Finizia, chair of the town's zoning board of appeals, told the town board at its April 12 meeting that he'd received "numerous phone calls" and was "stopped in the middle of the street" about a video posted for a time on the town's website, referring to the town's Facebook page. Finizia said he thought it was a joke at first. But, he said, "too many people were calling me on my phone and stopping me in ShopRite" about it.

Popailo is also a member of the zoning board of appeals.

Finizia asked the town board if they knew about the video.

Supervisor Alex Jamieson said it was a personnel matter under investigation about which he could not comment. He assured Finizia that the town's attorney was conducting an investigation.

Finizia disagreed with the board's decision not to hire an outside lawyer to investigate. He said he wanted to see the video but hasn't been able to find it.

"If it was on our website, then I need to get a copy of it," Finizia said. "I tried to find it. I can't."

"So that you know," Jamieson responded, "it has been looked at already by the town. We have our town attorney doing an investigation. We would have had a decision already, but he's on vacation, he's not here," he said, referring to Popailo.

"We would have had a decision tonight, to discuss that tonight," Jamieson said. "When he comes back I'm going to have a conversation with the town attorney and proceed with the recommendations."

'Removal not based on a video'Video of the town's April 12 meeting, which included the exchange between Finizia and Jamieson, was on YouTube but subsequently taken down. Jamieson blamed the removal on technical difficulties at the cable station in Sugar Loaf.

The meeting may be viewed at The Finizia-Jamieson exchange begins at 46:40 minutes.

Town of Chester Police Chief Daniel Doellinger serves as an alternate on the zoning board of appeals. He said the video was not a criminal matter and therefore did not fall within the police department's purview.

Jamieson told The Chronicle that Popailo's dismissal was in accordance with the county's civil service rules, which allow a probationary employee to be removed without cause from between eight to 52 weeks of his hiring date.

"I never saw a video and I have no idea," Jamieson said. "His removal was not based on a video."

Popailo was hired in June 2014 and paid $41,000 for part-time position created after the controversial abolishment of the town's longtime volunteer parks and recreation commission. Popailo was promoted to full-time director in January 2016 at $55,000, but he had not yet taken his civil service test. He took the test in late October 2016. Jamieson said he passed.

Jamieson said the town decided to move in a different direction and is now restructuring the parks department. The town will continue to offer great recreational services to the community.

Jamieson said the current parks and recreation department has done more for the town than the volunteer commission ever did.

Popailo may continue serving on the zoning board of appeals "if he wishes to do so," Jamieson said.

Related stories:"Chester parks director position is now full time":

"Parks director Walter Popailo to take civil service test":

"Chester fires parks commission":

Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct a typo.

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