Though councilmen stopped short of taking a vote of no-confidence in Supervisor Pete Coppolo Thursday, they took him to task over charges of harassment and verbal abuse from one of the men who wants his job.
“I was appalled at what you said. The language you used,” Councilman Mike Wilkens told him after a heated back-and-forth between Mr. Coppolo and Wes Laraway, the Middleburgh GOP’s candidate for supervisor.
“If you were in a private business, you wouldn’t have a job.”
“I agree completely,” said Councilman John Youmans.
“In the corporate world, you’d have been immediately walked out with a box and security. You’re the face of this town. And you did this in the town hall.”
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Much of Thursday’s initial discussion focused on whether councilmen needed to go into executive session to hear from Mr. Laraway, who said he was meeting with Town Clerk Brenda Lawyer on July 16, both as a candidate and a taxpayer, when Mr. Coppolo walked in and started hurling profanities.
“I object,” to discussing the charges publicly, Mr. Coppolo said, threatening to walk out of the meeting and leave Deputy Supervisor Sue Makely in charge.
“I know it’s a personal thing.”
Mr. Coppolo also refused suggestions that councilmen take the issue into executive session, where he said it would be a “pissing match…I’m the one being bashed in public.”
Councilmen left the matter there for about an hour while they dealt with other business, returning to Mr. Laraway’s complaint after Ms. Lawyer passed around a letter from Councilman Frank Herodes, who wasn’t at Thursday’s meeting.
Councilmen didn’t discuss the letter in public, but Mr. Laraway said he’d called every councilman after the incident and he believes the letter dealt with his charges.
Still unsure whether the incident should be discussed in executive session or publicly, councilmen put in a call to Town Attorney Mike West.
Meanwhile, Bill Ansel-McCabe, the Democrats’ candidate for supervisor and former Middleburgh mayor, told them to tread cautiously over the executive session issue.
“It’s a gray area,” he said. “It’s not personnel [a reason for executive session]. It’s personal. I don’t think it’s executive session,” adding, “I didn’t always like it either.”
“It’s directed at me and I think it’s personal,” Mr. Coppolo fired back. “You guys already know what the incident is. It’s personal. It happened in the front office.”
Mr. West told councilmen by phone that it was up to Mr. Laraway whether he wanted to discuss the incident publicly.
Although he didn’t go into detail over what was said, Mr. Laraway said Mr. Coppolo “verbally assaulted me. I’m not talking political banter. It was personal and vicious. What I had to go through, no one should have to.
“I think Pete crossed the line and he crossed it big time,” he said; the attack was so bad that he could have called the Sheriff’s Office or filed a harassment complaint.
Making his own case, Mr. Coppolo said his anger boiled over after he said Mr. Laraway went behind his back politically, promising to back him for supervisor—but then ran himself.
“I got worked up,” he said, charging that “Finally, he showed his true stripes.
“This is what angered me. If the man had come to me in the beginning [about his candidacy]…This built up in me. Did I say things I shouldn’t? Yes. Am I sorry? Sure.
“When people give you their word…Is his word going to be worth anything?”
Mr. Coppolo also accused Mr. Laraway of “being in cohoots” with County GOP chairman, Assemblyman Chris Tague, who’d asked supervisors to move their meetings to evenings—a change that would benefit Mr. Laraway, a Middleburgh Central School teacher.
Councilmen agreed it wasn’t necessary to take the vote of no-confidence that Mr. Laraway requested; it wouldn’t mean anything legally, Mr. West said, and they agreed they’d already made their feelings clear.
Mr. Laraway said afterwards he’s fine with that decision.
“I just wanted this out there,” he said. “Middleburgh has a reputation of abusing people this way. But it’s not right. It needs to stop now.”