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Ossining Highway Chief Pursues Lawsuit Against Town

Town of Ossining Highway Superintendent Michael G. O'Connor says the Town Board illegally lobbied voters in a failed attempt to make his position appointed rather than elected.
Town of Ossining Highway Superintendent Michael G. O'Connor says the Town Board illegally lobbied voters in a failed attempt to make his position appointed rather than elected. Photo Credit: Photo Courtesy Ossining Democrats

OSSINING, N.Y. – Voters rejected changing the Town of Ossining’s highway superintendent position from elected to appointed, but current Highway Superintendent Michael G. O’Connor is still pursuing a lawsuit against the Town Board.

O’Connor filed the lawsuit this month, asserting that the board violated the law and lobbied in favor of the proposition. Town of Ossining residents voted 72 percent to 28 percent to reject the proposal on Nov. 6, a few days after O’Connor filed his suit in state Supreme Court. O’Connor claims in the lawsuit that the Town Board distributed postcards and press releases urging residents to vote for the proposition and used town finances to do it.

“They blatantly put out pieces using taxpayer dollars to tell people to vote for it, and that’s against the law,” O’Connor said Friday. “My attorneys have done the research and indicated the same thing to me that this was wrong.”

O’Connor said he is not looking to gain anything from the lawsuit other than recognition that the board violated the law.

“The only thing I can ever hope for in terms of money is to break even,” he said. “I’m not looking for the money. What I hope to get out of it is to make the courts aware of what [the Town Board has] done and that they violated the law and did something wrong.”

O’Connor said he did not feel vindicated when the proposition failed but felt that the vote was a strong statement from town residents.

“I don’t feel like it was support for me,” he said. “The issue was the public maintaining the right of franchise to vote for who they want as their highway superintendent.”

The Town Board recently issued a response to the lawsuit, saying it is “frivolous and inappropriate.”

“Mr. O'Connor's actions only serve to underscore and highlight the need to change the position from an elected to appointed position,” the board said in a statement. “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.”

The board added that “the only individual with a personal stake in this matter is Mr. O'Connor,” according to the statement.

“Throughout the process, the Board members have made every effort to avoid personally attacking Mr. O'Connor,” the board wrote. “We have likewise refused to allow sentimentality to prevent us from taking steps we feel are in the best interests of our constituents. ... 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.”

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