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Onondaga County elections commissioner did not break law by working extra jobs during office hours

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick.

The Onondaga County District Attorney’s Office has found that the county’s Democratic Elections Commissioner Dustin Czarny, did not violate the law when he drove for Uber and Lyft during office hours.

Last month, after acting on a tip, the Republican county Comptroller Matthew Beadnell held a press conference asserting that Czarny cheated taxpayers out of thousands of dollars by driving for ride-hailing companies during work hours. Beadnell turned his findings over to District Attorney William Fitzpatrick. An investigation revealed, Czarny worked for Uber and Lyft for almost 15 hours over a two-year period, during business hours and excluding sick time. That’s significantly less than what Beadnell estimated. And Fitzpatrick said no state or local law designates the hours an elections commissioner must work, only that the office itself must be open during normal business hours.

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO News
Onondaga County Democratic Elections Commissioner Dustin Czarny.

“Mr. Czarny says that he worked far more than 35 hours per week," Fitzpatrick said. "I have nothing but support, in the data that we gathered, for that position. This is a political position. This is not an elected position. There is no set 9-5. He doesn’t punch a timecard. He felt, in light of the disclosures, that it looked bad. There’s just no thievery there. Things that don’t look good aren’t crimes.”

Fitpatrick said he would also make a recommendation to the county executive.

"That in light of the salary and job responsibilities, that the office of county commissioner of elections, be a position with ban on outside income during regular business hours," Fitzpatrick said. 

The elections commissioner position pays more than $98,000 a year.

Czarny said he will no longer work for Uber and Lyft during business hours. In a statement, Czarny said Beadnell grossly exaggerated the hours Czarny spent ridesharing, and a simple interview would have cleared it up.

Read some of Czarny's statement below.

I have maintained throughout this process that I did not do anything wrong and that Mr. Beadnell was mistaken in both his reading of the law and analysis of the data. I am grateful to District Attorney Fitzpatrick and his team for doing this investigation and uncovering the truth. Mr. Beadnell’s gross exaggeration of the hours spent ridesharing, whether on purpose or through incompetence, was a direct result of him never truly investigating the matter. A simple interview with me could have cleared this up. Mr. Beadnell had this data for months yet chose not to follow proper audit rules. He held a press conference without releasing an audit report and making this false accusation. I pride myself on the time and energy I give to this office and it is one of the great honors of my life to work for the voters of Onondaga County. The unfortunate and perhaps deliberate timing of this has made preparing for one of the most difficult elections in New York State history even harder. I am happy to report the staff at the Onondaga County Board of Elections has rallied and we are diligently at work. I want to thank my wife Heather, my family, attorney Ed Menkin, and the many supporters who have reached out over these last six weeks.
For now I will be focused on the business of getting this Election underway. Early Voting starts in eight days and my office is going to be working round the clock to get this done.

In a separate statement, Beadnell said all of the information was referred to the DA’s office at the DA’s request and Beadnell respects the decision reached.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.