Responding to criticism that he may have fallen asleep during a recent Town Board meeting, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said Tuesday that he was actually sending a text message.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated Thursday after the supervisor apologized for giving a misleading statement in his previous interview. Read the update by clicking here.
In a video of the incident, which was filmed during the Oct. 7 Town Board meeting and aired on Channel 22, Mr. Russell appears to nod off as Councilman Bill Ruland reads a resolution. Eight seconds after the resolution is read, Mr. Ruland asks Mr. Russell if he is going to call for a vote.
“Are you OK?” Mr. Ruland asks the supervisor after seven more seconds pass and the vote is still not called. The councilman then gently places his hand on the supervisor’s back.
“Mmm, hmm,” Mr. Russell responds, though he doesn’t immediately call for a vote.
It isn’t until another 20 seconds pass that Councilwoman Louisa Evans prompts him and Mr. Russell finally asks, “All in favor?”
Moments later, he stumbles over his words when asking if anyone from the public wants to address the board during the public comment portion of the meeting.
An unedited video of the entire Oct. 7 meeting is posted on the town website. The incident in question appears after the 26-minute mark.
But two days after the meeting, an edited version of the video was posted on YouTube and has since been viewed more than 300 times. A caption placed over the edited video reads “Asleep at the wheel!”
Several readers brought the incident to the attention of The Suffolk Times after Mr. Russell was involved in a single-vehicle crash on Skunk Lane in Cutchogue Monday night. The supervisor’s town-owned SUV was turned on its side during the crash, but he walked away uninjured. He said his vehicle skid on wet leaves in the roadway.
Reached by telephone Tuesday, Mr. Russell said “there is no relation” between the Oct. 7 incident and the crash.
“I wasn’t sleeping, I was texting,” he said of his apparent lack of attention during the meeting. “I shouldn’t have been texting.”
Town Board member Bob Ghosio said he noticed that something happened but doesn’t believe Mr. Russell dozed off.
“I can’t say what it was or what had caused that,” he said. “After a couple of minutes he shook it off and everything looked fine. Immediately after he seemed a little disoriented. I have seen a lot of things in my life and I can tell you he definitely didn’t fall asleep. That wasn’t a person falling asleep.”