Whether two Cortland County legislators were removed from committee assignments as retribution for a vote, or whether it was for other reasons depends on who one asks. And either way, it reveals a schism among the Legislature’s Republican majority.
“All I will say is, I’m tired of the drama in the current Legislature,” said Legislator Linda Jones (R-Homer). “We need to work on what we were elected to do and stop the drama. I’m not going to be a part of it by adding more to it. I see the Legislature as very fractured right now and that’s not very good for the county.”
Legislature Chairman Paul Heider (R-Cuyler, Solon, Truxton) said in emails Monday he removed Legislator Joe Nauseef (R-Cortlandville) from all his committee assignments over allegations of ethics violation — but has since reinstated him. He added he removed Judiciary and Public Safety Committee Vice-Chairwoman Kelly Preston (R-Homer) from the committee over social media comments regarding the sheriff’s department.
However, the legislators tell a different story. They said Heider is treating them unjustly, with Nauseef stating Heider may be seeking retribution because Nauseef, Preston and Jones voted in April against hiring the consultant company Transpro to help the county.
“Paul’s called us on the phone from his house yelling and hollering,” Nauseef said. “He has not been nice to us. He said things like we waged a war against him.”
Nauseef said the hostility started when he, Preston and Jones — decided with three Democrats — Sandra Price (DHarford, Virgil), Ann Homer (D-Cortland) and Richard Stock (D-Cortland) — to vote against hiring Transpro.
“We’re very transparent to our constituents and Paul hates that,” Nauseef said. “We made a little poster on Facebook and put it on our pages that the six of us came together. We got a really nasty letter in the mail after this.”
It was “very much like a Unabomber letter,” he added.
Nauseef said he knows who sent the letters, but declined to say who it was other than telling the people who received them.
Earlier this month, Nauseef was temporarily suspended from all his committee assignments after Heider said Nauseef refused to meet with him to “discuss statements you allegedly made that accused a private citizen of a specific action,” according to a the copy of an email from Heider to Nauseef dated June 19.
“On July 12, 2020 you wrote to decline the July 6th request, indicated you planned to consult with an attorney, and asked if there will be a hearing with the Board of Ethics. There has been no further communication from you to the Office of the Chair,” Heider said in an email.
Heider said Monday night a formal complaint is being filed with the Board of Ethics. Until then, Heider also said that Nauseef’s temporary suspension of his committee assignments “is now revoked, pending the outcome of this process.”
Nauseef said he refused to meet with Heider because of Heider’s behavior toward legislators who voted against hiring Transpro.
“He’s cornered all three of us,” Nauseef said. “We’ve had verbal discussions and he gets very hostile, that’s why nobody wanted to meet with him after that. This whole party thing is huge for him. We stood our ground and thought what we did was right for our constituents.”
Heider said the allegations by Nauseef were “totally not true.”
Both Price and Stock said they were not targeted by any of the alleged behavior by Heider nor did they see it happening to other legislators.
“I have not seen anything outside of executive session and anything in executive session I cannot talk about,” Price said.
Stock also noted that this was the first he was hearing about any of what happened. Homer could not be reached for further comment.
Nauseef also said he’s looking forward to meeting with the Board of Ethics.
“Bring it,” he said. “I want to know what this complaint is. If I have to go to an ethics board I’m looking forward to it. I’m just going to state my case. The truth will come out.”
As for Legislator Kelly Preston (R-Homer), Heider said she was removed from her position as vice chairwoman of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee after making comments under a post on the Sheriff’s Department’s Facebook page.
“On May 26, public Facebook posts appeared under your name critically questioning the management practices of a direct report to JPS, Sheriff Mark Helms, with respect to the posting of mug shots,” states an email that Heider sent Preston dated June 9. “Further, you suggested motives to these actions without any determination of facts, publicly calling into question both Sheriff Helms and his officer.”
Heider said Preston declined to view her comments as inappropriate and “a violation of your fiduciary responsibility to be fair and impartial.”
None of Preston’s other committee positions were changed.
Preston reiterated Monday that she had been surprised by her removal and that her comments on the post were related to the “derogatory comments by followers” of the post.
“The post and the comments disturbed me. My comment was to inquire as to what the purpose of the mug shot was,” she said Monday in an email. “I understand that the sheriff took this personally and that was not my intention. The sheriff emailed me upset and I removed the comment.”
Preston said that she supports all law enforcement agencies.
“I also support ALL people and believe it is my civic duty to stand up for the entire human population. This includes those accused of a crime and not yet convicted,” she said in her email. “I sincerely believe that until you are convicted you are innocent.”
In her email statement she said that she is trying to remain professional.
“I will remain professional and not engage in this controversy,” she said. “I was elected to represent my constituents in all matters and that is where I intend to put my efforts.”
However, Preston said she was upset by Heider’s behavior, someone who she had nominated to be the chairman.
“I’m ashamed at this point of his behavior,” she said during a phone interview.