Bashwinger, Lyons, and Palow are ‘incredibly dangerous’ and should be removed from office

To the Editor:

Unfortunately, I was not surprised to see in the Enterprise reporting that seven serious safety violations contributed to the fatal incident at the Berne highway garage in October 2020. Events like this are not referred to professionally as accidents because “most harmful workplace incidents are wholly preventable.”  

That October 2020 incident was like a kick in the stomach after council members Karen Schimmer, Dawn Jordan, and I worked so hard to try to bring Berne Highway operations into compliance with standards mandated by New York Vehicle and Traffic Law and other applicable standards and regulations. The entire situation literally makes me sick; this was entirely preventable.

Having worked with, designed and reviewed work zone traffic control plans for decades, I was astounded by the incredibly dangerous operations conducted by Superintendent of Highways Mr. Randy Bashwinger, on Stage and Sawmill roads beginning  in 2015.

I didn’t follow him or his operations around hiding in the bushes. That is one of his many lies. I just photographed his operations near my residence over the years. I didn’t need to go out of my way to document his hazardous ignorance and negligence.

So I have since well documented his willful ignorance and the continuing hazards he creates. He simply ignores laws, regulations, and procedures intended to protect employees and the traveling public from harmful workplace incidents on the highway. He is deliberately ignorant in my opinion.

What makes things worse yet is the politically motivated ignorance and the deliberate obstruction of efforts to bring Mr. Bashwinger’s operations into compliance with industry-accepted and mandated safety standards. Elected representatives are proactively working to obstruct efforts to bring operations into compliance with safety standards!

The supervisor [Sean Lyons] and the deputy supervisor[Dennis Palow] are also responsible for the continuing, documented, noncompliance with safety standards. The superintendent of highways, the town supervisor, and the deputy supervisor need to step down or be removed from office to protect employees and the traveling public from the hazards they create.

Based on the way proper policies, procedures, laws, and regulations are ignored in highway operations, I am indeed not at all surprised that the same type of very deliberate and willful ignorance was likely responsible for this incident in the highway garage.

Their goal is to protect the performance of the GOP chairman/ superintendent of highways from scrutiny while he spends his time at other jobs and political objectives. There are numerous, documented examples:

The Aug. 1, 2019 Bridge Road preventable incident could have been fatal for any employee working in that excavation or any member of the traveling public who drove into the excavation due to the missing and improperly used work-zone signs.

That very serious work-zone intrusion should have been a wake-up call, but instead every effort was made to cover it up to protect the GOP chairman from scrutiny. It took me two weeks to get public acknowledgement that this serious accident even occurred.

There was no concern for the safety of employees and the traveling public. Instead, the victim was blamed. She said in an Enterprise interview that the GOP chair/superintendent was not telling the truth about this incident.

I was not surprised by that. The superintendent and supervisor would not cooperate in my attempts to get information together so the town board could be informed about the incident. I put a pdf slide show together that, in my opinion, clearly illustrates blatant maladministration in this incident [posted with this letter at].

These people are incredibly dangerous.

In another example, Mr. Palow derailed a board-approved safety initiative to have a licensed professional engineer evaluate highway department policies and practices. We were very concerned about the safety of town operations and approved this evaluation in 2019.

The supervisor took no action in 2019 and, when the board majority switched, Mr. Palow made a motion in January 2020 to cancel this independent, objective evaluation by a licensed professional.

This was purely political. There was no concern for safety whatsoever. His rationale to support the motion were outright lies.

Then in February 2020, realizing these lies were a bad idea that could perhaps result in liability, he lied about his January lies. He claimed he never said those things to derail the safety initiative. He came up with another story. However, we have the January lies on a recording as well as the February lies about the January lies.

The safety initiative he derailed could have made a great difference by bringing general attention to the areas of blatant noncompliance in highway operations and creating an opportunity to correct safety compliance in general. Instead, months later, we have an even more serious incident, a fatality, in October 2020.

The supervisor is also complicit in these attempts to protect the negligent, ignorant, and incompetent actions of the superintendent from scrutiny. He announced on Oct. 12, 2019 that, as the town safety officer, he was forming a committee to investigate the Bridge Road accident.

Members of this committee were never announced, and no results of any investigation were ever announced. It appears the announcement of the committee was just designed to get me to back off in my scrutiny of the incident.

Here again, had this committee done its job in a timely manner, the noncompliance may have been recognized and addressed and the highway department may have taken general safety procedures more seriously. I have other documented examples of noncompliance and ridiculously dangerous highway operations but there is only so much room in each edition of this paper.

I think we are dealing with blatant maladministration at a level that justifies removal of these three from office. I truly believe a case can be made if any resident brought this and all the other indiscretions we have documented to court.

In my opinion, the more appropriate response would be for these three to step down voluntarily to protect the public and employees from the hazards created by their politically motivated ignorance and negligence.

Joel Willsey

Berne Town Board

Editor’s note: See related story.

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