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Head of the Harbor highway supervisor says he has been suspended

John Precht, the highway superintendent for the Head

John Precht, the highway superintendent for the Head of the Harbor Village for 30-years, at the front entrance on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016. Precht was suspended from his job in September.

Longtime Head of the Harbor Village highway supervisor Jack Precht has been suspended without pay by the village board, Precht and the village’s labor lawyer said.

Precht, 65, a 30-year village employee, said in interview that he fears he will be fired. He said he chose not to participate in an Oct. 14 disciplinary hearing where charges of misconduct were brought against him. Those charges were not made public.

Officials at a village board meeting last week said New York State law prevented them from commenting or even permitting discussion about the matter in a village forum, leaving about a dozen residents who’d come to speak on Precht’s behalf to talk outside on the steps of Village Hall.

In an interview, Ted Naughton, a former village trustee and unpaid village highway commissioner who worked with Precht for almost 20 years, called the board’s actions “absolutely appalling.” He called Precht “a village treasure” who knew “every valve in the streets.”

Precht said the charges against him were false or based on incomplete information. He said he chose not to participate in the hearing because he hadn’t had a chance to prepare a proper defense with witnesses to speak on his behalf.

Village labor lawyer David Cohen, of Melville-based Cooper Sapir & Cohen, rebutted that assertion and said the hearing was carried out according to New York State Civil Service law. Village officials expect the hearing officer to issue a decision in November, said village trustee Judy Ogden, the current village highway commissioner.

Ogden said the three-person highway department is “absolutely” able to perform its duties. Only one employee now has the commercial driver’s license needed to operate all of the vehicles used for snowplowing and other tasks, but Ogden said she expected the other two to earn commercial driver’s licenses by December. The village also has private contractors it can call on for snowplowing, she said.

The village budget calls for $489,620 in highway spending for the fiscal year ending in February.

“Some of the roads are crumbling,” Ogden said at Wednesday night’s Village Board meeting. “We don’t have the money to pave all the roads at the speed at which they need to be repaved.”

Precht, who said he received a commendation from the village for his work after superstorm Sandy, was paid $88,193 in 2015, records show. He said he has not been paid since September and has been struggling financially since a family health crisis last year.

“I’ve been working my whole life,” Precht said in an interview. “Unless things change, I’m going to end up losing everything.”

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