The Senator Greg Ball staffer who sent a constituent’s letter to the media without permission and created a phony e-mail account to make it appear it came from the individual tried to convince the family to suppress the story.
In a telephone conversation on June 4, Deputy Communications Director Dan Branda appealed to Robert Fields, the husband of South Salem resident Robyn Fields, to help keep the controversy out of the local papers. Last month, Mrs. Fields mailed a letter thanking Ball and his staff for helping the family place their 21-year-old daughter in a group home.
Fields played the 22-minute tape for The Examiner of his conversation with Branda, who apologized for having “made a serious of assumptions with the e-mail,” and believing that he had received the family’s permission to release the correspondence as a letter to the editor.
He further stated to Fields that he had offered his resignation to Ball and would do anything to prevent the story from hitting the papers and jeopardizing the senator’s reputation.
“I’ll come over and mow your lawn,” Branda pleaded.
Fields reminded Branda there should have been no misunderstanding because he and his wife never spoke to him previously. He then told Branda that the press was rightfully concerned once word surfaced that the fake e-mail address was established.
The senator and his staff refused to answer further questions following the release of a Tuesday afternoon statement made by Ball’s Chief of Staff Jim Coleman that supported Branda. The statement insisted that Branda had obtained permission to send Fields’ letter to area media outlets. The family has maintained that had they been asked in advance they would have been happy to write a letter to the editor that contained less personal information about their daughter’s condition.
Mr. Fields, who accused the senator’s office of trying to cover up the actions of a staffer, adamantly maintained that had Ball or other staff members apologized for the episode and taken steps to remove Branda, the controversy would have ended there. Fields said he continued to call attention to the issue “because I saw a fraud committed on the press.”
“There’s not anything that we did here that publicized the private information,” Mr. Fields said. “It all came from Ball’s office. They sent the letter out, they sent the letter to the Daily News.”
As of Wednesday morning Branda was still employed by the senator despite having been placed on “temporary probation.” He had sent out an advisory about a press conference in Yorktown that Ball was holding later in the day regarding the MTA payroll tax.
Coleman’s pointed June 7 statement said the office “moved heaven and earth to help this family.”
“It must be repeated, however, that while we do not question the integrity or political purposes of the constituents involved, our young staffer affirms that Ms. Fields’ letter was distributed with her authorization,” the statement mentioned.
Ball’s staff then forwarded Mrs. Fields’ letter to the Daily News and attached it with the statement to a list of more than 200 media members from New York City to Albany despite assurances to the family that it would do what it could to limit the further distribution of the information.
A source from within Ball’s office who asked not to be identified said the letter was sent out because media outlets were requesting a copy of the original letter.
Coleman’s statement also mentioned that the office has “proactively apologized for any miscommunication, taken the extra step of placing this young staffer in question on temporary probation, had this staffer issue a formal apology to the family and instituted protocols to protect against future failures in communication.”
After learning that the information had been faxed to the Daily News and appeared on its web site late Monday, Robyn Fields issued her own statement condemning the senator and his staff.
“After all that has happened, Senator Ball’s office clearly knew that I would have objected to them sending the letter to the Daily News or to any other organization,” Mrs. Fields stated. “Not only did the senator’s office once again publish confidential information we wanted to keep private, they also went so far as to disclose my home address, telephone numbers and e-mail address. We find Senator Ball’s actions to be appalling and despicable. This is another example of how Senator Ball’s office deliberately violates the trust of his constituents.”
Mr. Fields said he had no reason to perpetuate the controversy but wanted to make sure that other constituents aren’t similarly victimized.
“This is not a politically motivated thing,” he said. “I am a registered Republican. I have voted for Republicans in the past, I will vote for Republicans in the future. This is a personal matter.”