The Republican Onondaga County comptroller is accusing the county's Democratic elections commissioner of working as a driver for Uber and Lyft during his agency's regular business hours.
Onondaga County Comptroller Matthew Beadnell said in an interview with The Citizen Monday that Dustin Czarny, the county's Democratic elections commissioner, spent 94 hours driving for Uber or Lyft when he was supposed to be at the board of elections. Beadnell's office reached that conclusion based on a review of documents provided by the ride-sharing companies.
Beadnell referred his findings to Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick, who confirmed Monday that his office has launched a criminal investigation.
The comptroller's inquiry began in March, Beadnell said, when he received a tip from an unnamed source about Czarny's side gig as an Uber and Lyft driver. Around that time, NewsChannel9 aired a story about Czarny assisting a family that left an abusive home.
Beadnell acknowledged the story was "fantastic," but also revealed that his office reviewed whether Czarny took the appropriate time off that day — the story notes that Czarny assisted the family on Friday, March 1. While Czarny put in for the necessary leave time, Beadnell said his office still had enough to go on to pursue an investigation.
After requesting data from Uber and Lyft and receiving that information over the last several months, Beadnell said they used Microsoft Excel to sort through and determine if there were any days Czarny drove for either company that would be considered work days.
A review of the records — Beadnell said the data from Uber covers August 2017 to April 29 of this year, while Lyft's reports span from August 2017 to June 2 of this year — found Czarny worked 94 hours as a ride-sharing driver over the last 20-plus months while the county board of elections' office was open. That's an average of more than an hour a week during that span.
Beadnell estimated that Czarny earned $5,100 from the county while he was working as a driver for Uber and Lyft. Czarny, who has been the Democratic elections commissioner since 2013, earns an annual salary of $98,753.
Most county employees, Beadnell explained, are required to punch in and out for their shifts and when they take lunch breaks. As an appointed official, Czarny doesn't file time sheets for work. But, Beadnell added, he must be "accountable for his time."
"He has the same balances that everybody else would have," Beadnell said. "He gets vacation time, he gets personal time, he gets sick time and therefore, if he's not at work, he has to be accountable and submit time — whether it's vacation, personal, sick, whatever."
Czarny is required to work 35 hours a week. In an interview, he said he works more than the mandated amount and longer hours than when the office is open.
As an example, he mentioned working a booth at the state fair on behalf of the Onondaga County Board of Elections. The board had a table at the fair to demonstrate its new electronic poll books, and Czarny worked evening and weekend hours to ensure there was someone present to assist voters.
Recently, he said he worked on a project even though he took three vacation days. And he claims he worked at least 50 hours a week over the summer redesigning the board's training program.
"I work well over the 35 hours required for this job because I view this as a mission," Czarny said. "At times, I may have reached well over that 35-hour mark and left early or I did something on my lunch hour. I really don't know what (Beadnell) is talking about, so I can't go into the details."
Czarny said he took up driving for Uber and Lyft two summers ago — not long after the state legalized ride-sharing. He said he finds it "relaxing" because he's not the decision-maker in the transaction. The customer, who requests a ride on either the Uber or Lyft app, tells him their destination.
"I'm not making any real money on it, but I do find it enjoyable," he said. "I don't drink, I don't go out, so I end up helping people who do it."
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Beadnell and Czarny agree on one point: A vast majority of his driving occurs when the Board of Elections office isn't open. Beadnell confirmed that with the documents his office obtained, and Czarny said "99%" of the time he drives for either Uber or Lyft is on Thursday, Friday or Saturday nights.
Czarny couldn't recall a specific example of when he may have driven for Uber or Lyft during the board's business hours. He said he may have picked up passengers after a recent shift working at the state fair.
"I have to be honest, it's not something that happens a lot and it's only when I've decided I'm done working," Czarny said. "It's not like I'm doing it during the work hours that I believe I'm working at. It's not something that I'm leaving the app on and leaving the office and going out and doing. It's always when I've left for the day or before I've gotten into work."
Beadnell reiterated that the issue isn't that Czarny is earning outside income. The problem arises, he continued, when Czarny is driving during the board's office hours.
Both officials agree that Czarny submitted a standard work day resolution which outlines his job duties and his work day. The resolution was approved by the Onondaga County Legislature.
The resolution is significant because it's used for pension purposes.
"There has to be a record of this stuff to satisfy earning that pension," Beadnell said. "Would it be unreasonable for him to flex this time? No, I don't believe so. I don't want to speak to the legality of everything, but certainly there has to be a record of that and I believe his approver would have to approve that from their end. And as I've looked up all this data, there's nothing of that nature in there."
Beadnell said he briefed and made recommendations to Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon, the Onondaga County Legislature and Fitzpatrick. He also provided information to the county attorney and state Attorney General Letitia James' office.
He also confirmed that he spoke to Onondaga County Republican Chairman Tom Dadey. Dadey has been a frequent critic of Czarny's on social media.
When asked why he would discuss the matter with Dadey, Beadnell responded: "I'm a registered Republican and he's the chair and the Republicans endorsed me for this election this year. I like to keep people apprised of what's going on."
Beadnell, who is seeking a full term as county comptroller in the November general election, added that Dadey is part of his "inner circle," which includes other county officials.
One person Beadnell didn't talk to is Czarny. He felt it wasn't necessary because of the information his office gathered.
"My thoughts on this are here are the facts as stated," he said. "This is what I have that's concrete evidence ... I didn't feel the need, especially by turning it over to the DA, that I didn't need to get him involved at this point."
The announcement regarding Beadnell's inquiry comes as the comptroller's office is auditing the Onondaga County Board of Elections. The reviews aren't related, Beadnell said, but he wanted to get the information out about Czarny while the audit continues.
Czarny welcomed the attention to his office.
"I think people will see how many hours we put in here at the (Board of Elections) and how dedicated our staff is," he said.