The Town of Huntington cannot simply withdraw the lawsuit it filed against its own Highway Superintendent William Naughton last month.
That's according to attorney Thomas Levin, of Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein in Garden City who represents Naughton in the lawsuit filed by the Town Board Feb. 3.
Levin said that a press release issued by Public Information Officer AJ Carter is disingenuous.
"I've seen their press release," Levin said Monday. "But they don't have the right to withdraw the lawsuit. It doesn't work that way. They need our consent."
The suit, filed for the town by attorneys James Clark and James Ryan, alleged that despite the fact that the Town Board adopted its 2010 operating budget November 5, 2009, with the condition that all budgeted salaries for all full-time positions that remain vacant as of January 1, 2010 "shall be transferred to a contingency account" Naughton "improperly attempted to add eight employees to the Highway Department payroll" anyway.
The suit also alleges that both Naughton and the eight individuals were informed that their time cards could not be processed because the Town Board had not approved filling of the positions and that Naughton subsequently attempted to process vouchers to pay the individuals as independent contractors. That request was also denied, according to papers filed by the Clark and Ryan.
The suit also states that, because Naughton recognized that Town Board approval was required to fund vacant positions, he submitted a resolution for inclusion on the board's Oct. 6, 2009 agenda to reinstate funding for one dispatcher position and six AEO positions. The town declined.
The town said that it now seeks to withdraw the suit because it seems Naughton has now received the message it intended. "The litigation served its purpose: to remind Superintendent Naughton of longstanding practices requiring that all additions to authorized staffing levels be approved by the Town Board," Supervisor Frank P. Petrone said in the press release. "We expect Superintendent Naughton will adhere to these procedures in the future. There is no longer a need to continue the suit."
Levin said that Naughton has until Friday, March 5 to respond to the original lawsuit and intends to take that time.
"We're determining right now whether we're better off letting them drop the lawsuit and starting our own or whether we're better off with the lawsuit we already have," he said. "When we decide I'm sure we'll be letting them know."
Also named in the lawsuit with Naughton were the eight men he allegedly hired without permission from the Town Board. They are: Joseph Fiore, Christopher Koulermos, John Spatola, Davien Motley, Paul Wohlrab, Andrew Koehler, Shalom Jones, Dominick Gagliano. Their union was named also, Local 342 Long Island Public Service Employees UMD-ILA AFL-CIO. Although the lawsuit claims that the town did not enter in to an agreement with the defendants as members of Local 342 and so is not required to adhere to agreements made with the collective bargaining agreement associated with that union as it pertains to them.
Levin said that he advised the men to discontinue working for the highway department.
"The town refused to pay them and we didn't want them to continue working because their is a liability issue but if we get authorization, we are going to rehire them," he said.
Mr. Levin said that the question has been raised regarding whether Naughton, as an elected official, has the right to run his department without interference, is difficult to answer. "Different elected officials have different rights according to state law," he said. "We believe it gives hiring power to Mr. Naughton for his department. The town seems to disagree."
The current lawsuit states that Naughton's actions are "in direct contravention of his statutory authority and have severely compromised the Town Board's ability to perform its statutory duty to manage and amend its budget and finances, and create or abolish positions in every town department as it deems advisable."
In 2000, Naughton sued the town for not allowing him to place five highway department employees on the town payroll, but the court sided with the town stating that the salaries and positions of the five employees were not included in the operating budget.