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O’Brien filed notice of claim against village, Potsdam board members

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By CHRISTOPHER ROBBINS

POTSDAM — Former code enforcement officer Timothy J. O’Brien has taken preliminary steps to file legal action against the village, Mayor Steven W. Yurgartis and Trustees Stephen J. Warr, Eleanor F. Hopke and Reinhold J. Tischler.

Mr. O’Brien filed a notice of claim with the village Wednesday, citing violations of state labor and civil service laws and seeking reinstatement of his position and benefits, and back pay less unemployment received. A notice of claim is a legally required step for anyone wishing to file a lawsuit against a municipality.

“The action of the board is legally questionable and ought to be reviewed,” Mr. O’Brien said.

The village’s Board of Trustees voted 3-1 to terminate Mr. O’Brien’s employment effective immediately at its May 30 meeting. Mr. Warr abstained from the vote. The only trustee not named on the notice of claim, Ruth F. Garner, was the lone dissenter.

At the time, Mr. Yurgartis said Mr. O’Brien was hired nearly a year earlier and was approaching the end of his probationary period, an assertion disputed by the notice of claim, which argues Mr. O’Brien’s probationary period ended May 29, making him a full-time employee when the board fired him.

The claim says the firing broke the state civil service law, which requires written charges, representation and a hearing be offered to public employees prior to their termination.

The village did not tell him why he was fired, Mr. O’Brien said. “Basically, there has been no actual reason given to me,” he said.

Mr. O’Brien’s claim says the village violated the state labor law by firing him as a direct result of reports to respondents/defendants about “dangerous” code violations throughout Potsdam. The claim says Mr. O’Brien’s firing might be retaliation for his refusal to issue permits and certificates of occupancy when he was aware that the building or structure did not comply with regulations.

Mr. O’Brien said he thinks he was fired for doing his job.

Last week, the village hired former code enforcement officer John G. Hill out of retirement for the interim. Mr. Yugartis previously said he expects to fill the position permanently this summer.

Mrs. Hopke would not comment. Mr. Yugartis, Mr. Warr and Mr. Tischler did not return calls.

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