- The New York Times
- June 22, 2000, B-6
- Eight at Riverkeeper Resign Over Kennedy's Hiring of a
- By Robert Worth
At least eight members of the board of Riverkeeper, an environmental
group known for its work on Hudson River and New York City watershed
issues, have quit in protest over a difference with Robert F.
Kennedy Jr., the group's lead lawyer.
Robert Boyle, who was Riverkeeper's president until he resigned
yesterday, said the dispute arose over a man Mr. Kennedy had hired
late last year to help the organization monitor the city's compliance
with environmental laws in the New York City watershed.
Mr. Boyle said the man, William Wegner, pleaded guilty in March
1995 to illegally smuggling rare bird eggs into the United States
from Australia and was also convicted of tax evasion that year.
"I am just appalled," said Mr. Boyle, who founded
Riverkeeper as the Hudson River Fishermen's Association in 1966.
"It was imprudent, reckless and irresponsible of Bobby to
hire him. And he didn't have the right. I do the hiring and firing."
Mr. Kennedy said of Mr. Wegner: "He's done terrific work
for Riverkeeper. There's nobody who contests that. We all make
mistakes in our lives. Where would any of us be if we didn't get
a second chance?"
Mr. Boyle fired Mr. Wegner as soon as he learned he had been
hired last December. However, Mr. Wegner continued to work separately
for Mr. Kennedy, and at a board meeting Tuesday evening, Mr. Kennedy
insisted that Mr. Wegner be allowed to work for Riverkeeper. That
led at least eight members of the 22-member board, including Mr.
Boyle, to walk out of the meeting in protest and resign their
John Fry, Riverkeeper's treasurer, said hiring Mr. Wegner was
particularly inappropriate because his crime was an environmental
one. Mr. Fry also quit the board.
"As treasurer, I felt hiring him might endanger our development
work," Mr. Fry said.
Mr. Boyle said that at the meeting, Mr. Kennedy equated Mr.
Wegner's crime with his own conviction for drug abuse in the 1980's.
Mr. Boyle says he was appalled, and asked Mr. Kennedy what
he supposed Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani would think if he knew that
the man gathering evidence for him on the city's possible misconduct
in the watershed was himself guilty of crimes.
"I walked out of the meeting because I thought what was
going on was a disaster for the organization," said Patrick
Crow, a board member.
Mr. Kennedy appears to be unshakable, Mr. Fry said. The directors
who have sided with him include the actress Lorraine Bracco and
Anne Hearst, a granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst.
Riverkeeper is a party to the Watershed Memorandum of Agreement,
a plan to maintain the purity of New York City drinking water
and avert a federal mandate to filter the city's water. Its annual
budget is $2 million.