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Huntington highway boss sued over recent hirings

The Huntington Town Board filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the town highway superintendent, accusing him of ignoring town hiring procedures when he added eight workers to his staff in December and last month.

The hiring procedures require town board approval before money can be released for a position that has been vacant. In the 2010 budget approved in November, the board voted to freeze salaries of elected and appointed officials as well as a delay filling 25 vacancies until mid-2010.

The lawsuit aims to prevent Highway Superintendent William Naughton from attempting to fill vacancies or hire independent contractors without obtaining board approval.

"The board has to 'release' the job," said Supervisor Frank Petrone, a policy he said was put in place "so everybody would have to adhere to it. It's the fiscal policy of the board. The board will determine what positions should be filled and at what point."

According to the lawsuit, Naughton filled the vacancies in late December and early last month without approval and without posting the jobs as required.

Petrone said when the workers showed up at the town personnel office, they were told the jobs did not exist. The lawsuit says the men were later notified in writing that they were not employees of the town and "were providing services at their own risk."

Naughton then attempted, unsuccessfully, to process vouchers to pay six of the workers as independent contractors.

"If he had followed the procedures," town spokesman A.J. Carter said, "if he had come to the town board and talked about his needs and understood the need to balance town finances, it's very likely he would have gotten some if not all of the jobs he requested over a period of time."

Naughton, who has been highway superintendent for 21 years, declined to comment "as this is a legal matter." He referred calls to his attorney, Thomas Levin of Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein in Garden City.

Levin said Naughton's position "is they are interfering with his ability to run his department as an elected official. He intends to vigorously defend the lawsuit and file a counter claim."

The board voted Wednesday to hire a private attorney to represent Naughton to avoid a potential conflict of interest. He will be offered a list of four who have agreed to accept a $200 hourly rate.

But Levin said the town doesn't have the right "to tell him what attorneys they will allow to defend him when they sue him. Our position is he does not have to pick one of those people; he is entitled to pick his own attorney."

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