Keene Supervisor William Ferebee
KEENE — Town board members have decided not to pursue criminal charges against Keene Supervisor William Ferebee for pumping town fuel into his personal vehicle in early January.
After reviewing the situation at a Feb. 14 meeting, board members concluded that Ferebee’s actions did not constitute an abuse of power, noting it was a one-time incident prompted by the supervisor running out of gas.
“We all agreed as a board that the incident should be reported to New York state audit and control and that (Ferebee) should send a letter to them and reimburse the town for the gas that was taken in the emergency situation,” said town board member Robert Biesemeyer.
The situation unfolded during the afternoon of Tuesday, Jan. 10 as Ferebee was traveling on Route 73 enroute to the Keene town office on Hurricane Road. Just before he got there, his vehicle began stalling out because of a lack of fuel. He said he was able to get the vehicle to the lower town sand pit, where the town fuel tanks are located.
He used a key supplied to him by the town to unlock the gas pump and fueled his vehicle with 14 gallons of gas. He then sent a text message to town Highway Superintendent Bruce Reed alerting him of the situation.
During a town board meeting that night, Ferebee shared what had happened with his town board in executive session, and was told to reimburse the town for the gas, which he did the next day, paying town clerk Ellen Estes $2.98 per gallon — the cost of gasoline paid by the town on state contract — for a total of $43.50.
A week later, Ferebee wrote an e-mail to Patrick Bowen, an examiner with the state comptroller’s office, asking for advice about how he should handle the incident.
“At no time was my intent to take anything from the town as you know that during the town audit it was one of my focuses to establish a better tracking system for town fuel which I did,” Ferebee wrote Bowen.
“So now with the rumor all over town that I stole gas from the town so the question I have should I contact the comptrollers office with this because I’m sure that someone from the town will.”
Bowen responded that he intended to forward the e-mail to his supervisor, Gary Gifford.
“So if any one calls our office we can say that you informed us of the matter,” Bowen wrote in his response.
During the Feb. 15 meeting of the Keene town board, about 15 Keene residents, more than double the usual number of attendees, showed up angry over Ferebee’s actions.
Keene resident Roy Sheasby questioned the board’s decision to not press charges against Ferebee.
“Under article 199 of the penal code this is a official misconduct, a Class A Misdemeanor,” Sheasby said. “You have absolutely no more right to take a gallon of gasoline out of that gas pump, whether it’s locked or unlocked, than anyone else here.”
Sheasby said because Ferebee used gas paid for by taxpayer’s money for his own use, it should at the least be considered petty larceny.
Ferebee said the people who are coming out and accusing him of theft are people who have been caught in one way or another stealing from the town.
“Because I’m the town supervisor and they have an axe to grind they are accusing me of this,” Ferebee said. “It’s a non issue, I’ve spoken with town lawyers and county lawyers and no one thinks I’ve done something unexcusable, this was an emergency situation and people are just going on rumors.”
Ferebee said the incident was a one time incident and said people should take it at face value and not listen to rumors or hearsay.
Board members defended Ferebee and said the gossip about the situation, which spread within hours of the incident, has turned into an attack on Ferebee.
“I think things with this incident, no argument, could have been handled differently,” Biesemeyer said. “But I think what’s out on the street is so blown out of proportion, and I think it’s unfair.”
The incident is now under the scrutiny of state Comptrollers Office to decide if further actions must be taken, Biesemeyer said.
Meanwhile, Biesemeyer said any private citizen can pursue criminal charges.
“You as a private citizen are certainly welcome to bring charges,” Biesemeyer said. “If you feel there are criminal actions, you are welcome to pursue it.”