Oyster Bay's town attorney said Monday his chief deputy has relinquished use of a town car after a Democratic town council candidate complained about the employee transporting campaign signs in the vehicle.
Frank Scalera's decision to give up the perk comes after candidate Christopher Briggs began complaining -- and before he filed a federal lawsuit last week. Briggs alleges that Republican incumbents have been violating the local ordinance with their campaign signs and employees have been illegally using town vehicles to transport GOP signs and remove Democratic ones.
Town attorney Leonard Genova said he talked to Scalera Oct. 7 after Newsday, which also observed the signs in the car, relayed Briggs' complaints. "He immediately said to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, he would voluntarily surrender his car, effective immediately," Genova said.
Briggs also spoke about the sign issues at a town board meeting two weeks ago. After Supervisor John Venditto responded that there were more important issues to worry about, Briggs last Thursday filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District in Central Islip against the town and incumbent candidates alleging sign illegalities and challenging the constitutionality of the sign ordinance.
Genova declined to comment on recommendation of outside counsel. But after Briggs spoke at the board meeting, town spokeswoman Marta Kane said, "We found nothing to be violative of the code."
Briggs' attorney, Andrew J. Campanelli of Merrick, said, "The town sign law is unconstitutional because it regulates signs [differently] based upon their content."
He added, "It's unlawful to expend [government] funds on anyone's campaign, much less to undermine someone's campaign." But the suit states that says Briggs photographed Scalera and Town Clerk James Altadonna Jr. loading campaign materials into their town vehicles. Campanelli said Briggs had captured on video an employee driving a town truck and ripping down his signs late at night.
Campaign signs can be no larger than 64 square feet. Briggs photographed locations where multiple Republican signs were attached to each other to create what the suit argues is the equivalent of an illegal billboard.
Thomas Sabellico, a town special counsel, looked at Briggs' photos two weeks ago and said: "It's pretty clear that there is no sign that exceeds 64 square feet. The code is pretty clear; it doesn't indicate that there cannot be an aggregate of signs on a property."Campanelli said "they have illuminated signs, and that's completely prohibited on residential properties."