NEW YORK – A former manager at the Sept. 11 memorial was fired for raising health and security concerns at one of the most security-conscious places in the world, he said in a lawsuit filed Friday.
As facilities director, Thomas Cancelliere alerted his bosses that the water in the memorial's signature fountains carried illness-causing bacteria, the exit gates were too narrow and could hinder an evacuation, and there were no security checks at a public parking garage directly below the off-site room where the memorial's millions of visitors are screened, the lawsuit said.
"Unfortunately, Mr. Cancelliere's concern for the safety of visitors was not shared by his supervisors," who told him the issues weren't his responsibility or were being addressed, even though they weren't, the lawsuit said. It seeks unspecified damages under the state whistle-blower-protection law.
Cancelliere, 67, was fired last month in what his bosses said was cost-cutting but he calls retaliation, according to the suit, filed in a Manhattan state court. No one else was axed at the time, it said.
The nonprofit memorial foundation spent about $28 million last year and is ramping up to lay out $60 million a year once an accompanying museum opens, including about $12 million a year on security.
Cancelliere is well versed in the security concerns that envelop the memorial site: He's a retired plant and facilities manager for the World Trade Center, where the memorial plaza now stands. He left the government agency that runs the trade center in 1996, held other jobs and then started in November 2010 as facilities chief for the privately run memorial, which has drawn more than 4.5 million visitors since its outdoor plaza opened in September 2011.
The next summer, he noted to his boss that no one was examining cars at the garage under the memorial's "welcome site," where its visitors go through security checks in a residential building down the block from the memorial itself, the lawsuit said. An elaborate "vehicle security center" is being built at the trade center site itself, where a truck bomb in an underground garage killed six people and injured nearly 1,000 in a 1993 terrorist attack.
His boss told him it wasn't his job to worry about security at the screening room garage, according to the lawsuit.
"Here he is, as the director of facilities, and has a right to be concerned about the issues" in the suit, said his lawyer, Douglas H. Wigdor.
This year, Cancelliere told his supervisor the fountains' disinfecting system wasn't built properly, and water tests had found the bacteria that cause Legionnaire's disease, Cancelliere's lawsuit said. People can get the disease from breathing in contaminated water vapor, though most people exposed to the bacteria don't become ill, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Cancelliere's boss said the problem would be handled, but nothing was done, the suit said.
Cancelliere's troubles came to a head after two memorial security guards complained this fall that the screening room was overcrowded and badly ventilated, the lawsuit said. Cancelliere says he told superiors the complaints were on-target, and he recommended air tests, crowd control and other measures.
He was told the issue was being resolved and that he shouldn't worry about it, according to the suit. When Cancelliere pressed, he was chastised that he needed to "get along better" with his colleagues, his suit said. He was fired about two weeks later.
Through his lawyer, Cancelliere declined to be interviewed.
The New York memorial says his claims are baseless and Cancelliere was fired because he failed to meet performance standards.