NY town board seeks removal of EMS volunteer over critical Facebook post

The Massena Volunteer Emergency Unit responded saying the volunteer was exercising his First Amendment rights


Bob Beckstead
Watertown Daily Times, N.Y.

MASSENA, N.Y. — Officials with the Massena Volunteer Emergency Unit completed their investigation into social media comments made by a member, and they say no action will be taken as the comments were within the person’s First Amendment rights.

Massena Town Board members had requested Erik “Hondo” Hondusky’s resignation after they became aware of social media posts he made, criticizing them after reimbursement for a pizza order was rejected earlier this month.

The Massena Town Board is seeking the removal of a Massena Volunteer Emergency Unit member over a Facebook post that was critical of their refusal to reimburse a pizza order. (Photo/Massena Rescue Squad Facebook)
The Massena Town Board is seeking the removal of a Massena Volunteer Emergency Unit member over a Facebook post that was critical of their refusal to reimburse a pizza order. (Photo/Massena Rescue Squad Facebook)

Mr. Hondusky said the town refused to pay for a $100 pizza order for members who waited on standby during a Black Lives Matter protest on Aug. 1.

The Town Board said the comments “...actively proposed a strike, walk-out, and/or other work stoppage of this critical community service as a method to address perceived grievances with this Board. The writer of these posts actively began calling on, and gauging, community support of his proposed actions.”

The Facebook post escalated into an airing of grievances over respect between the Town Board and volunteer organization. In his post, which he said was not meant to encourage anyone to ignore their duty to the community, he blasted the town over the pizza, how much revenue the squad generates in fees each year and a lack of empathy over the COVID-19 response.

“Who would support the volunteers of Massena Rescue if they decided to prove to the town how vital we are? We could picket or just not answer calls for one week. We answer all the calls that generate every dollar that the town uses to run us,” Mr. Hondusky wrote in the post. “We basically volunteer to make the town money. The budget we do get is used to operate the town’s rescue squad, (supplies, vehicles, equipment, utilities, etc.) The volunteers don’t get one dime of the money they generate. We rely on donations to cover our expenses.”

In response, the Town Board said, “The Massena Town Board stands in unanimous consent that such statements are extremely reckless, potentially dangerous, and possibly illegal. The Board finds that ongoing efforts to solicit and rally community support for such actions are also reckless, divisive, and needlessly alarming. Such actions, if taken or followed through, could have serious implications for the taxpayers and citizens of this community.”

The board called their response “measured and professional,” and requested the Board of Managers review the concerns and investigate following a special closed door discussion “leading to the discipline, suspension, dismissal or removal of a particular person.”

Mr. Abrunzo recounted Mr. Hondusky’s contributions to the Massena Rescue Squad and said, “The members of MVEU stand united and WILL NOT turn our back on him, or frankly any member with the courage and character to stand up for what is right! We won’t be intimidated and remind the Town of Massena Board that they are dealing with an independent corporation that is working in concert to provide a service, not subordinates.”

Mr. Abrunzo said the Massena Volunteer Emergency Unit “does not condone how this matter was handled by the Town Board; having a meeting in executive session to discuss a member without representation is ludicrous, and running to the media without contacting myself as the liaison between the MVEU and the Town Board to verify the validity of these statements is even more ridiculous.

“At this point we are confident the townspeople have surmised this matter was never about ‘pizza.’ We have a Rescue Squad Board of Managers which the town has put in place with a specific charter to oversee budgetary forecasting and prudent utilization of the budget. They are in tune with our needs and in my opinion do an ‘outstanding’ job tracking of every penny allotted and keeping the squad on target with the budget,” he said.

He said “the straw that broke the camel’s back and angered Mr. Hondusky” was when bills he said were properly coordinated with supporting documents and signed off by the Board of Managers were returned to him with a note that read, “Do Not Pay — Steve.”

“Mr. O’Shaughnessy has gone through an evolution of excuses as to why the bills were rejected if you watch the newscasts over the past week, culminating with the latest of ‘we didn’t know what it was for’ as I sit here writing this response looking at the rejected PO which clearly says ‘protest on Parker Avenue Bridge’ on it and as well as the minutes from the Emergency Operations Center meeting showing that he was present when the Village requested additional ambulance teams be staged at Massena Rescue in support of the event,” Mr. Abrunzo said.

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©2020 Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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