CORFU – Mayor Ralph Peterson is being asked to resign amid claims of harassment and allegations that he withheld an email from village trustees regarding a potential lawsuit against the village.
This is the second time Peterson has been asked to step down since arriving on the job about five months ago.
The board had motioned to call for Peterson’s resignation in April, but that vote failed.
The latest attempt to oust Peterson arrives on the heels of allegations that he withheld an email from the Village Board regarding a lawsuit filed by police employees who claim that work hours were illegally withheld from them. The letter, which contained a settlement offer to resolve the matter before reaching the lawsuit stage, was sent from the plaintiffs’ attorney in May but didn’t come to the trustees’ attention until a lawyer representing the police employees produced the letter during an executive session that preceded a village meeting Monday, said Trustee Ken Lauer.
For months, trustees had pressed Peterson on the status of the potential lawsuit but were met with no response, Lauer said.
Then came the revelation at the meeting last week about the settlement offer.
“Needless to say, it just turned lousy during that executive session,” Lauer said, adding that Peterson left the executive session shortly after.
During the course of the session, Peterson told trustees he knowingly withheld the letter from the remaining board members, Lauer said.
Emails seeking comment from Peterson were not returned.
Trustees later approved a motion in favor of requesting Peterson’s resignation, giving the mayor a couple of days to mull the request over before convening again for an emergency cabinet meeting Thursday. There, the board arrived at a resolution, giving Peterson until 5 p.m. Friday to resign. If he doesn’t resign before then, the board will begin proceedings to remove Peterson from office through the State Supreme Court.
At the Thursday meeting, Peterson told Lauer that he does not intend to step down.
Peterson “was sitting next to me, he said he’s not resigning, so that’s his position,” Lauer said.
The qualms about Peterson on Monday were just the latest during his brief, stormy tenure as Corfu mayor.
In April, about two weeks into his term, Peterson narrowly staved off a similar motion calling for his resignation by a 2-1 vote. That vote stemmed from claims of harassment against the village’s clerk and assistant clerk.
Peterson had unsuccessfully attempted to fire the employees from their positions. Then, he set up a desk near the women’s work area, enabling him to watch over them as they worked, according to Lauer.
“It got to the point where basically, what he’s done, is he’s put a desk in this small area and work station where he can basically oversee the assistant clerk and the clerk,” Lauer said.
The harassment claims were also revisited again in executive session Monday, following a letter submitted by the two female employees stating they felt unsafe in the work environment.
Peterson originally won the mayoral seat in a March 21 vote, upsetting then-longtime Mayor Todd Skeet by two votes.
On Aug. 8, Peterson sent an email to the Board of Trustees stating that he rescinded any appointments he had made to head departments.
Lauer said the contents of the letter did not follow procedure and that Peterson was “basically trying to change things to suit his needs and make it very autocratic and very executive-branch oriented.” The remaining trustees are not responding to the letter, Lauer said.
The drama has complicated operations and decision-making, but the village is managing to carry on, Lauer said.
“If it’s business actions, we need to pay bills, we pay bills. We all rise above that. But, it’s terse and that’s the best word I can say,” he said.