The Northern Westchester Examiner

Ossining Highway Super Sues Board for Lobbying to Axe Job

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The debate over the future of the Ossining highway superintendent position, which will be decided by voters on Election Day, has now gotten personal.

Current Highway Superintendent Michael O’Connor, who has been in office since 2006, filed a lawsuit last Thursday against the five members of the Ossining Town Board for allegedly violating the Constitution of the State of New York by using taxpayer funds to promote the passage of a referendum to change the elected highway chief to an appointed job.

The legal action, filed in state Supreme Court, calls for Supervisor Susanne Donnelly and Town Board members Eric Blaha, Geoffrey Harter, Peter Tripoldi and Northern Wilcher to refrain from using public money to support their “personal, private agenda” and requests they be held accountable by making restitution to the town for all funds spent on their campaign.

“The actions by the members of the Town Board constitute a waste of public funds, impermissibly using such funds to induce the public to vote in favor of the referendum at issue,” the lawsuit contends. “In addition, the actions of the members of the Town Board constitute a waste of public resources, improperly utilizing town personnel and town equipment to advance their personal views. Moreover, the actions of the members of the Town Board are also improper in utilizing town employees for a partisan election purpose.”

The Town Board voted unanimously in August to put the referendum before voters, despite overwhelming support from residents at several public hearings to keep the highway superintendent answerable to voters, not the Town Board.

“This is not about a person. This is about the best government for the people of the Town of Ossining,” Blaha said after joining his fellow board members in supporting the referendum on August 28.

Blaha and other board members have maintained having the board choose the person to lead the highway department will produce more qualified professionals. Currently, the only requirements for an individual to run for highway superintendent are they must be at least 18 years old and be a registered voter.

O’Connor, a former councilman, is reportedly the lowest paid highway superintendent in Westchester County at $89,536 annually. Of the approximately 1,500 highway superintendents in New York State, only 59 are appointed.

“The Town Board has made no secret of their goal of removing the choice of who fills the position of Superintendent of Highways from the public,” O’Connor stated in the lawsuit. “They advocated their position at public hearings, in letters to the editor and in interviews with various publications.”

In addition, O’Connor stated the board put together a postcard that was mailed to residents that “does not merely present unbiased information to the voters concerning the referendum. Rather, it improperly advocates a position, namely, support for making the position of Highway Superintendent for the town an appointed, rather than an elected, position.”

O’Connor also alleges Donnelly directed information about the referendum be posted on the town’s website, which, along with the postcard, “went far beyond these permitted political purposes and should be found to be an unconstitutional and prohibited use of public funds.”

If the referendum is approved by voters, the highway superintendent position would change beginning in 2014.

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