This story includes suggestive words and phrases that some may find offensive.
TOWN OF ROCHESTER–A town planning board member has been temporarily suspended for making vulgar, sexist remarks toward two women in a private conversation on Facebook messenger, according to the parties involved.
John Dawson, a Republican who serves voluntarily on the town of Rochester planning board, admitted on Wednesday that he called two women “c–t” and in at least one private conversation, told a woman to “s–k his d–k.”
“I regret that I had a foul mouth, but it was a private conversation,” said Dawson, a retired developer, who has lived in the town of Rochester for 35 years.
“Someone was trying to bait me into having a conversation pertaining to certain things politically. They assumed I was the town supervisor. I couldn’t get them to stop. They started attacking me personally, and I called her the ‘C’ word, and then she put it publicly on Facebook,” Dawson said.
“She wouldn’t stop calling and texting me, and I finally got pissed off and used the dreaded word. I regret it. I was going to say I was sorry about it, but her taunting went on from 3 p.m. until after 6 last night. I couldn’t block her.
“People joined in and called me an a–hole. OK. I am an a–hole. I’ll admit that. I curse a lot, but I wasn’t acting in any official capacity when this was going on,” he said.
Planning board members are not elected. They are appointed.
Rochester Town Supervisor Carl Chipman said he has suspended Dawson pending further investigation by the town ethics board.
“We have to go through due process. We have to have a written letter accusing him of an ethics violation. They will come back to the board with a recommendation, but right now, he is not going to be sitting on the board,” Chipman said.
“I find the accusations troubling, and I feel his choice of words were very inappropriate, but there is something called due process.”
One of the women to whom the comments were directed said she is disgusted by what transpired.
Lisa Beth Acton, an Accord resident, said she and another woman, Shaunie Morano, were merely criticizing the planning board’s inaction on the nonprofit Project Cat, described on its website as an environmentally conscious animal welfare organization.
According to Acton, a group opposed to the project it claims is illegally euthanizing cats had assembled on Monday night during a planning board meeting and were accused by Dawson of “inciting a riot.”
“He then went to my Facebook page and told me that I was a ‘liberal c–t’ and that I could ‘suck his d–k,'” Acton said.
Once Dawson realized she publicized their conversation, he began deleting his remarks, she said. Acton added that she saved them as screenshots before he could do so.
“This went on for several hours. He posted 70 comments on my personal Facebook page. I kept the conversation going because I wanted to show that he should not be allowed to be in any elected or volunteer position in any town. That behavior is disgusting. I think he should be made to apologize.”
Acton said her three adult children and mother were appalled by the comments and now fear for her safety.
“They are really upset because they feel I was threatened. It was totally uncalled for, and I hope that the female community gets upset for the way that this man attempted to bully me. Cyberbullying is a crime,” she said.
Acton called the police but claims they would not take a report because they deemed she was not threatened, according to her account.
Morano, the other woman at whom vulgar comments were aimed, was unavailable for comment.
For his part, Dawson reiterated that he has free-speech rights and that their conversation was meant to be private via Facebook messenger.
He also accused some in the town like Independence Party Chairman Len Bernardo of creating a vengeful firestorm over it.
Dawson ran against his wife, Terry Bernardo, in 2013 for the District 21 seat in the Ulster County Legislature, which he admitted Wednesday was mainly to be a “spoiler.”
“Len Bernardo’s running away with it on Facebook, making it political and trying to get a group behind him,” Dawson said.
Bernardo called that claim delusional.
“I did not instigate anything,” he said. “I have nothing to do with his actions and his words. If he thinks he can talk to women like that, then, that’s the real problem.”
Meanwhile, Dawson, a father of three adult children, said he has no interest in seeking future political office and stands by his claim that Tuesday’s social media conversations were intended to be private.
Nor does Dawson plan to fight it further.
“They took my freedom of speech and made it public, so what’s the fight? I’m not going to fight for a non-paying position. I don’t see that it will become an issue because it was a private conversation that someone made public. There’s no law against cussing.”