The following is from the Ossining Town Board:
It is unfortunate that the Ossining Superintendent of Highways, Michael G. O'Connor, has resorted to the courts and filed what we believe is a frivolous and inappropriate lawsuit, challenging the right of the duly elected Town Board to communicate with its constituents. The timing of the lawsuit is particularly egregious as the region seeks to recover from an unprecedented weather event causing countless individuals personal hardship and financial devastation. Mr. O'Connor's actions only serve to underscore and highlight the need to change the position from an elected to appointed position.
In an unprecedented example of nonpartisan cooperation, the Town Board unanimously approved the legislation which would have converted the position to an appointed one, subject to a mandatory referendum. The Town Board remains committed to this change for reasons based on long-term operational needs, best management practices and efficient use of taxpayer funds. We now regret that there was insufficient time to adequately advise the public of the numerous positive benefits which would have been realized through this change.
Throughout the process, the Board members have made every effort to avoid personally attacking Mr. O'Connor. We have likewise refused to allow sentimentality to prevent us from taking steps we feel are in the best interests of our constituents. We've emphasized that the decision of the Board had nothing to do with a particular individual, and that it was based solely on what the Board unanimously believed was in the best interest of the unincorporated area of the town, now and, importantly, in the future. The bipartisan nature of the Board’s support of this legislation highlighted the non-political character of our efforts. It should be noted that none of the Board members would personally benefit from this change. The only individual with a personal stake in this matter is Mr. O'Connor.
Although the Board acted non-politically, the same cannot be said for Mr. O'Connor. Individually, the Board Members all personally respect Mr. O'Connor. The Board has made every effort to work with Mr. O'Connor to ensure that the vital services provided by his department are rendered in a professional, cost-effective way. Mr. O'Connor, however, is a politician, not an individual with the proper training and education needed to run a Highway Department in the modern era. The position of ‘Elected Superintendent of Highways’ is an anachronistic holdover from a simpler time, simply by nature of the responsibility entailed. Neither villages, cities nor counties have elected DPW department heads. Village managers are also appointed, not elected officials. Those municipalities are free to appoint the most qualified individuals to fill those positions, and to remove those individuals in the case of mismanagement or incompetence.
The Board refused to publicly air what it felt were numerous examples of mismanagement and inadequate supervision within the Highway Department. One particular instance actually resulted in an investigation by the District Attorney which, although not resulting in an indictment, highlighted what the Board felt was lax oversight within the department. With an elected Superintendent of Highways, the Board’s hands were essentially tied as far as taking adequate steps to address these issues. Instead of engaging in a public battle, the Board felt it wise to take the high road in trying to fix a system that we all concluded was broken.
The Board’s attempt to communicate its position to the electorate was not only highly proper, but consistent with their obligation to communicate with the public concerning issues affecting government operations. Mr. O'Connor's hypocritical lawsuit challenging the Board’s efforts to communicate with the public is inconsistent with his own actions as reported to the Board. Although not himself a resident of the unincorporated area of the town, it came to our attention that Mr. O'Connor engaged in a personal lobbying effort to convince the public that the Board had some type of sinister vendetta against him. His lawsuit is a thinly veiled effort to embarrass the Town Board, clearly intended to aid his own future political aspirations. This is exactly the type of behavior the Town Board was seeking to prevent. Despite the fact that Mr. O’Connor is of the same party affiliation as three of the Board members and the Town Supervisor, the Board divorced itself from politics and acted in a manner they felt was in the best interest of the taxpayers.
The manager of the Town’s Highway Department assets should not be engaging in political grandstanding and should not be in the public advocating the continuance of an outdated system that does not serve the public in order to preserve his job. He or she should be spending their time performing the job and fulfilling obligations to the taxpayers. As a department head managing millions of dollars of taxpayer assets, the individual should not be in a position to inappropriately use taxpayer assets to gain political favor with members of the public. This frivolous lawsuit is now diverting the time and energies of the Board and Mr. O'Connor from the real and important job of finalizing the budget and recovering from the storm.
We respect the decision of the voters, although we still firmly believe we did the right thing in enacting the legislation the voters rejected. We recognize that it is our obligation, as well as the obligation of Mr. O'Connor, to provide the best possible services at the lowest cost to the taxpayers. The Town Board controls the budget and the Superintendent of Highways must maintain a working relationship with the Town Board. This lawsuit shows that Mr. O'Connor has no intention of working cooperatively with the Board going forward, an attitude that will only hurt the taxpayers and helps no one.
The Ossining Town Board
Town Supervisor Susanne Donnelly
Councilman Geoffrey J. Harter
Councilman Eric P. Blaha
Councilman Peter J. Tripodi IV
Councilman Northern Wilcher Jr.