By Debra J. Groom
The fire department in Phoenix wants Schroeppel Town Supervisor Patrick Nugent to resign due to a comment fire officials claim he made to them at a fireworks display this summer, a lawyer said.
Jarrod Smith, lawyer for the Enterprise Fire Co., said the company is planning to sue the Town of Schroeppel and Nugent for what it calls a violation of political rights and interfering with the contract between the town and the fire department.
Smith said the fire chief and president of the fire company say Nugent threatened to punish the fire department during town budget negotiations this fall because the two men refused to sign Nugent’s nominating petitions for this year’s town election.
Nugent would not comment on the action. Town Attorney Allison Nelson said the town does not comment on ongoing litigation.
According to the notice of claim filed Sept. 9: “while (Nugent) was soliciting signatures, he came into contact with fire chief John N. Delahunt and president Peter F. Marsenison. … The chief and president declined to sign his petitions due to the fact that (the fire department’s) policy is not to endorse political candidates.”
“He (Nugent) knows they don’t sign anyone’s petition,” Smith said.
Smith said the Enterprise Fire Co. is an independent company, not affiliated with the town or Village of Phoenix. He said it is a long-standing policy for members not to favor any political party in elections.
The notice of claim then states: After the chief and president declined (to sign the petitions), supervisor then stated to them ‘I will remember that come contract time.’” The claim goes on to say this statement “was threatening and not in the interest of the public good.”
Each year, the fire department submits to the town a contract for the amount of money it wants to receive in exchange for providing fire protection to the people and property in the Town of Schroeppel. In 2013, the town paid $231,963 for fire protection for the town’s nearly 6,000 residents.
The fire department has requested $243,561 for 2014, an increase of 5 percent. Marsenison said the fire department has not received an increase from Schroeppel in about three years and the costs of materials such as safety equipment keep going up.
He also said the increase amounts to $1.93 more for the year for each resident in the town, less than a cup of coffee in many places..
Smith said he believes Nugent violated General Municipal Law by threatening to affect budget negotiations due to Delahunt and Marsenison not signing his petitions.
Smith also said Nugent’s action violates state Penal Law because he tried to deprive another person of a benefit through the use of his public office. Because of this, Smith said he also has given a copy of the notice of claim to Oswego County District Attorney Gregory Oakes to see whether Nugent can be charged with official misconduct.
Oakes confirmed he is looking at the paperwork.
Smith said he sent a letter to Nugent and the town before filing the claim to try to work out a settlement. “We are asking that he resign,” Smith said.
Nugent lost his Republican primary Sept. 10 and now will be on only the Independence Party line in the November 5 election. When asked if Nugent losing his supervisor seat would be enough to satisfy the fire company, Smith said no, because Nugent still would be supervisor until Jan. 1 and would be in on the budget negotiations for a fire contract.
Smith, who grew up in Fulton, said municipal law mandated the fire department file the notice of claim before filing an actual lawsuit. But he said the lawsuit will state the same claims as the notice. “This basically is the lawsuit,” he said.