by Joshua Maloni
After an hour-long executive session, the Town and Village of Lewiston municipal boards agreed Monday to abolish the three Lewiston Police Department commissioner positions. LPD Chief Chris Salada will now report directly to Town of Lewiston Supervisor Steve Reiter and Village of Lewiston Mayor Terry Collesano.
Following the closed-door meeting, Reiter read a prepared statement. He said the two boards unanimously agreed to replace the three commissioners with two liaisons - the respective parties' chief executive or an authorized designee (who must be an active board member).
Reiter said the joint decision eliminates the middleman.
"It was just a mutual decision that sometimes some of the details didn't get back to the various authorities," he said following the meeting.
Collesano said a main benefit of the new agreement is "less confusion."
"There seemed to be a lot of confusion," he said. "It was a great system when it was set up, back in the mid-'90s, but (by) today's standards it's a little confusing."
For several weeks, the Lewiston Police Commission had been the subject of dissention between the two municipalities.
At the Town of Lewiston's Jan. 9 re-organizational meeting, the board appointed Councilman Ronald Winkley, a former chief of the LPD; Councilman Ernest Palmer, former chief of detectives in the Niagara Falls Police Department; and Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority Acting Board Chairman Henry Sloma as the three police commissioners.
On Feb. 21, former Village of Lewiston Police Commissioner Al Soluri informed trustees of this decision. This drew the ire of Village Attorney Edward Jesella, who said at the meeting that the Town Board had no right to select all three commissioners. He said it was a violation of the police contract, and that the agreement between the two sides allowed each municipality to appoint one commissioner. The third would be a dual appointee.
The new agreement, Jesella said, "is the best resolution to the problem, because now we have a representative from each side. We don't have to worry about other people coming back to tell us how they viewed the sessions. We'll know directly from the mayor and (the supervisor)."
He said the town and village are now "equal partners."
Town of Lewiston Councilman Alphonso Marra Bax said the board liaison route would improve communication between the LPD, the town and the village.
"The change we made today streamlines the chain of command and therefore the management of the department," he said.
Collesano said the uncertainty of who was or wasn't a police commissioner made Salada's job more difficult.
"It was confusing for the chief," he said. "The chief is in the middle; he doesn't (know who to report to). This way, representation will go back to the way it was."
Salada said the matter was between the town and village and he declined further comment.
Jesella said, "Now he can do his job."
Palmer made the motion to eliminate the police commission. It was seconded by Village of Lewiston Trustee Bruce Sutherland, and approved by a 9-0 vote (Village Board member Vic Eydt was absent).
Prior to the regular Town Board meeting, the council thanked the former police commissioners for their time and effort.
"We should make sure ... they're well recognized," Winkley said.
The town and the village are still working out the details of a new police contract. The two sides briefly conferred on the matter on Monday, and Reiter said, "Further discussions will continue."
Palmer noted, "We made a very necessary first step."
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