SCRIBA, NY – The Scriba Town Board voted Wednesday night to approve a local law to abolish the position of elected town highway superintendent. The town supervisor is now empowered to appoint someone to the position, with confirmation of the town board. Several in the audience bemoaned that condition.
The board meeting room at the Scriba Municipal Building was filled to capacity; dozens more stood along the walls and spilled out into the hallway.
Many left the meeting disgruntled over the board’s decision.
The board’s action comes after it was revealed that the newly elected highway superintendent, Michael Barry, concealed his DWI arrest from voters this past summer and fall. Barry was arrested on July 26 for DWI in the town of Brutus, Cayuga County.
Barry’s license to drive was suspended by the Town of Brutus Justice Court late last month pending prosecution by the Cayuga County District Attorney’s office.
All Scriba residents are eligible to vote. The time and place of the vote are yet to be determined, according to Kevin Caraccioli, town attorney.
The local law is subject to a mandatory referendum which is allowed to occur at a special election, but not less than 60 days after the local law is adopted, he explained. Therefore, a date for the special election is expected to be in early February, he added. It would then be sent to the NY Secretary of State for filing and at that point, becomes effective immediately.
Jim Oldenburg said he was in favor of the local law.
“We are here tonight because of the actions of one person; that person being Mike Berry. When you run for public office and win, you are held at a higher standard than most,” he said. “You have earned the trust of the voters and must work hard to maintain that trust. This fall’s election was based on lies and deceit. It’s not about sour grapes or vindictiveness on the town board’s part.”
Given (Barry’s) record, you are fooling yourself if you don’t think he’ll be convicted, Oldenburg added.
Barry registered a blood alcohol content of .14%, nearly twice the legal limit for driving while intoxicated. The current charge is his second arrest in less than three years; he was convicted of DWAI in 2013, and has a DWI conviction from 1990.
If convicted of his current charges, Barry will receive a lifetime revocation of his commercial driver’s license, and will likely be unable to obtain a Class B license for a period in excess of five years under Department of Motor Vehicle regulations.
Barry didn’t contact the town supervisor or the highway superintendent that his arrest may affect his job, Oldenburg said.
He purposely kept this from everyone and the public so as not to affect the election results,” he said. “Had the public known this, I truly believe the result would be different.”
Barry should do what is right and resign and save the town taxpayers the cost of the referendum and seek professional help for his illness, according to Oldenburg.
However, many other speakers were opposed to the idea.
“I don’t think it’s fair to take away my right to vote,” Donna Bennett told the board. It was a sentiment shared by several others.
“I want to keep my right to vote,” another woman added. “As far as I can see, you people have already gone out and hung Mr. Barry. He hasn’t even gone to court yet. You’ve ruined his family. It’s just not what a board should have done. “I’m not going to give you the power to appoint whoever you wish to have!”
Linda Krachel said she was speaking for several neighbors who had to work and couldn’t attend the public hearing.
“This is a political nightmare,” she said. “I’m here to say I don’t want to give up my rights to vote.”
Stephen Harris said that when he found out “about the deceit and fraud that was committed to get this election, my first reaction was – give me a break.”
“Thank you for giving us a break,” he told the board. “This is not good government. How is Mr. Barry going to keep people accountable for driving and keeping our roads safe when he has potentially driven on our highways in violation of the laws of this state? It’s a matter of public trust. He betrayed that public trust. He lied through omission.”
The board wants people to give up their right to vote and give (Town Supervisor Ken Burdick) sole control over the highway superintendent position, Robin Davis said.
“Whether you like his choice or not will be irrelevant. The person may be great or they might not be and there will be no going back; once it’s done, it’s done, only Mr. Burdick can undo it,” she said. “He could, in all likelihood, put Roger Myers back in, which would be comparable to him thumbing his nose at you because you made it very clear in the election that as a whole, Scriba doesn’t want Mr. Myers.”
Because the person would be appointed, they don’t have to live in Scriba, she said, adding that special elections “are not cheap and you as taxpayers will be footing the bill.”
Other speakers urged the board to consider other options than a referendum. Some pointed out that the job requirements don’t include holding a driver’s license and “he wasn’t caught drinking on the job.”
Beverly Maxwell asked the board how they can “persecute a person who hasn’t had due process yet?”
“Our hands are tied,” Town Supervisor Ken Burdick said last week. “No one wants their right to vote taken away but we cannot tolerate a highway superintendent that cannot operate a motor vehicle due to revocation on account of drunk driving.”