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Jul 1, 2009 11:35 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Candidate says invitations at work were a mistake

Jul 1, 2009 11:35 AM

John McGann, the Republican nominee for Southampton Town highway superintendent, acknowledged that some of his supporters made a “minor error in judgment” last week by distributing flyers for a meet-and-greet with him to highway department employees while they were at work.

Town Management Services Administrator Richard Blowes said he was informed by a highway department employee, who wished to remain anonymous, that Terry Flanagan, Mr. McGann’s campaign manager and vice chairman of the town’s Conservative Party, and Jen Stearns, a highway department employee who is Mr. Flanagan’s daughter, had handed out flyers to other highway department employees during the workday inviting them to a barbecue at Mr. Flanagan’s home. According to the flyer, the event was intended to provide department employees an opportunity to get to know the candidate and to discuss departmental issues with him.

According to the invitation, “Terry and Dawn Flanagan, parents of Jen Stearns (North Sea Barn) invite you and your guest to our home on Thursday, June 25th, to meet John McGann, Candidate for Highway Superintendent.”

The flyer clearly said that the get-together was “not a solicitation for donations” to Mr. McGann’s campaign.

Town Supervisor Linda Kabot—who issued a memo to Darlene Troge, the town’s workplace policies compliance director, instructing her to look into the matter—noted that Mr. Flanagan is an appointee to the Conservation Board, Ms. Flanagan is an employee of the Town Justice Court, and Mr. McGann is a former member of the town’s Ethics Board.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Flanagan did not return messages left on his answering machine or e-mail messages Mr. McGann said he had forwarded to Mr. Flanagan, seeking comment. Ms. Stearns did not respond to repeated messages left for her at Highway Superintendent Bill Masterson’s office, where all messages for department employees are typically left. Despite repeated calls to the North Sea Barn location, no one answered the phone.

Mr. McGann said he stood by his supporters who, “in good faith,” organized the gathering.

“This was not a fund-raiser, nor was it a campaign event,” Mr. McGann said. “There were no bumper stickers, buttons, lawn signs or any solicitation for funds or support.”

Ms. Kabot, however, said she was concerned about the distribution of the flyers to other department employees. Even though the event was not intended to solicit funds, Ms. Kabot said passing out the invitations appears to be a violation of town code, which prevents any sort of campaigning on town time and is geared toward ensuring a “partisan-free” work environment.

Mr. Blowes said once the appropriate department heads look into the matter they will make recommendations to the Town Board to take whatever action they deem necessary.

Mr. Masterson, who is stepping down at the end of this year after 20 years on the job, said he does not condone the actions of Mr. McGann’s supporters, although he agreed with Mr. McGann that their doing so was a legitimate error.

“I think this was just a little bit of ignorance as to town policy on the part of his supporters,” Mr. Masterson said. “However, I do not condone it, and when I found out about it I immediately sent a memo to all my employees indicating that this was against the town policy and that they should never feel pressured to go to such things.”

Democratic highway superintendent nominee Alex Gregor, Mr. McGann’s opponent, said the GOP is minimizing the issue.

“This is simply not supposed to be done,” Mr. Gregor said. “Anyone with any knowledge would know it’s improper. What level it rises to, I don’t know, but clearly Mr. McGann and Mr. Flanagan do not understand the proper ethics of running a campaign.”

Mr. Blowes said the town was taking the matter seriously. “We sent out a letter to all town employees informing them of town policy,” he said. “Workers have First Amendment rights, but there are some things that are not permitted on town time.”

Mr. McGann added that the campaign for highway superintendent should be “about the issues, not someone trying to make a mountain out of a molehill.”

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And the beat goes on. This is the same old "Politics at Town Hall" that's been the standard for many years under the Republican/Conservative agenda. If you believe for a moment that this happened without Mr. McGann's knowledge then I have a bridge I'd love to sell to you. Just the mention of his candidacy on the flyer made it a political document. The most tyro party worker knows not to solicit on town property or during town work time. He was on the Ethics Board and didn't know that this was a ...more
By foodie (74), Remsenburg on Jun 30, 09 5:21 PM
Hey, Foodie -- if McCann hadn't've been on the Ethics Board, this would be a non-story, and as yet there has been no suggestion by anyone that this was done with Mr. McCann's knowledge, much less at his bidding!

Just acknowledge your partisanship and get over it.
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Jun 30, 09 8:02 PM
Oh, please! This one is right up there for the Make Your Own Rules Award, Highway Division. The nominees are: First, "MASTERSON'S LAW OF CONTRACTS", in which Highway Superintendent Bill Masterson releases certain paving contractors from their obligations to the Town simply because the price of asphalt spiked and it would be hard on them, without anything in return for the Town. Second, "WE'LL CALL IT A REFORM", in which the Republicans, anticipating Masterson's retirement, try to hold on to ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on Jun 30, 09 9:45 PM
This is an example of how it has been in Southampton Town Hall. For years, the Republicans have thrown ethics out the window and used their positions to keep their people in power and will continue to do so.
Look below to see why this family is so vested in keeping their people in power.

Connect the dots (Republicans/Conservatives)
1. Terry Flanagan(Jim Malone's Vice-chair of the SH Town Conservative Party, member SHT Conservation Board, McGann's campaign manager)
2. Jen Stearns ...more
By SHNative (554), Southampton on Jun 30, 09 10:30 PM
3 members liked this comment
"All this?" Are you that desperate to tie this can to McGann's tail?

I absolutely "see the (appearance of) impropriety," but more importantly what I see is a number of people jumping on this non-event trying to dirty up someone who looks to be a good man the better to give a perennial loser like Alex Gregor a shot at winning in November.
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Jul 1, 09 1:24 AM
Let's face it, McGann wasn't invited to a surprise party!

He knew and was part of the planning. They invite all those who would be working with McGann if he was elected to office. That's just plain intimidation. But I guess they are used to running for office using those tactics.

Did Jen Stearns have nothing to do at work that day.? Who did her work at the Highway Dept? Or maybe they wouldn't miss her. She decided to ride all over town to deliver invitations. It was easier than ...more
By Bob Whyte (48), Hampton Bays on Jul 1, 09 5:21 AM
1 member liked this comment
Maybe, maybe you could say this was an error in judgment and nothing else. But search Southampton Press' archives for 2007 and plug in the word "ethics." what you'll see is a series of articles about...amending the ethics code. The McGann campaign, at the least, should have done their homework to ascertain if their get together crossed an ethics line. In reality, they should have ruled it off the table for any consideration. What would a McGann campaign portend, yes more of the same.
By number19 (111), Westhampton on Jul 1, 09 7:46 AM
1 member liked this comment
This man, McGann, did not know what his campaign was doing and he wants to be Highway superintendent? That does not say very much for his ability to manage. It seems pretty lame to me.
I particularly find the comparison of this as a "mole-hill" interesting because moles work underground and the damage is not evident until it is too late. Is this how McGann will run our Highway Department?
This is a bad omen for this candidate.
By SHNative (554), Southampton on Jul 1, 09 11:47 AM
1 member liked this comment
Whoa!! Mr. Wheeler! Alex Gregor a "perennial loser"? A man who came within 50 votes of unseating Bill Masterson the last time out? The chair of the Independence Party that commands its own line on the ballot and enough votes to be decisive in Town elections? This is a perennial loser? I don't think so. You're not usually so far off the mark. Perhaps it was the hour. Comments posted at 1:24 in the morning are often not as well thought out as those posted at more conventional times.
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on Jul 1, 09 12:57 PM
2 members liked this comment
Whoa yourself, Turkey Bridge -- in order to not be termed "a perenniel loser," one needs to have won a contested election somewhere along the line.

What has Alex Gregor ever won? If there's been a victory somewhere, I seem to have missed it.
By heeeere's johnny (11), westhampton beach on Jul 1, 09 2:52 PM
I disagree, Johnny. There's more to the notion of "winner" or "loser" than the number of elections won or lost. I stand by my position that no one with Alex Gregor's record and political muscle can be called a loser. If you doubt it, look at how much weight the Independence Party vote carried last November, and watch it happen again this year.
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on Jul 1, 09 3:39 PM
1 member liked this comment
they're all clowns. dont you people understand it?
By littleplains (305), olde england on Jul 1, 09 3:54 PM
Lil plains....I understand where you are coming from but it is a bit of a cop-out to say "they are all clowns". We have a duty to not let government run away from the people. For too many years the town has been controlled by a group of well connected Republicans. They dominate ALL of the boards in the town and determine much of our lives. Our town needs more input from all of the people in the Town of Southampton.
As for this situation with McGann, we must challenge this kind of violation of ...more
By SHNative (554), Southampton on Jul 1, 09 5:01 PM
1 member liked this comment
WOULD YOU PEOPLE STOP WITH THE REPUBLICAN VS. DEMOCRAPS and just look at and listen to the people running for the office!!
By UNITED states CITIZEN (207), SOUTHAMPTON on Jul 2, 09 4:37 AM
Yea....as soon as the Republican leadership stops pulling the strings of their people on the boards in town hall.
By SHNative (554), Southampton on Jul 3, 09 11:52 PM
You can't use the word "ethics" and the SH Highway Department in the same sentence. Fund raiser in Chief Masterson has been a drain on the public purse for years. I thought, he might like Generalissimo Franco, attempt to keep his stranglehold hand on the funds long after he had died. Instead, they are trying to clone him.
By Phanex (83), Southampton on Jul 4, 09 12:09 AM
Does anyone know if the Southampton Town Board of Ethics is taking up this issue?
By SHNative (554), Southampton on Jul 7, 09 1:39 PM

Sure a blue ribbon panel will be put in place....in December 2009, after the election.

If Mr. McGann did not know that a Town employee was stumping for him on Town time, one can question his ability to run the Highway Department. If he knew, and is now lying about it, he should run for Gov. of Alaska or South Carolina. . . . .

By CommonSense (71), Southampton on Jul 7, 09 3:57 PM
1 member liked this comment