Say inconsistencies in statements raise questions about truthfulness, fitness for office
by Christian W. Peck
Public Information Officer
Niagara County Public Information Office
Two of the Niagara County Legislature's top officials announced Monday that they would oppose the nomination of Democrat Elections Commissioner Nancy L. Smith at Tuesday's meeting of the Niagara County Legislature following Smith's appearance before a Legislature committee last week.
Majority Leader Rick Updegrove, R-Lockport, and Community Safety and Security Committee Chairman Paul B. Wojtaszek, R-North Tonawanda, who also serves as deputy majority leader in the Legislature's 12-member Republican Conference, said they would vote "no" on Smith's nomination and continue to probe the termination of a Niagara County Board of Elections employee. Wojtaszek cited inconsistencies between statements by Smith during a hearing conducted by the Legislature's administration committee and written statements provided to County Human Resources Director Peter P. Lopes prior to that hearing as proof that Smith was not truthful in her responses to legislators' questions.
Wojtaszek had signaled a desire to move forward with Smith's nomination - which has been stalled by questions surrounding her Oct. 2 termination of Board of Elections employee Lawrence V. Soos after he publicly opposed Democratic Party Chairman Nick Forster at that party's organizational meeting the night before - following Smith's appearance before the administration committee. However, a subsequent review of materials supplied to the county's Human Resources Department changed Wojtaszek's outlook.
"The Legislature sought clarification from Mrs. Smith about both her reason for firing Mr. Soos and what reasons she had provided to the Human Resources Department at the time of Mr. Soos's termination," Wojtaszek said. "Mrs. Smith had also provided (Lopes) a detailed written statement citing specific reasons for Mr. Soos's termination after Mr. Soos filed for unemployment benefits - and the reasons cited at that time in writing were explicitly political and not related to his job performance."
Wojtaszek said he only learned after that Legislature hearing that Smith had provided a different explanation to county lawmakers than was provided to Human Resources.
"I wanted to give Nancy Smith the benefit of the doubt in this matter," Wojtaszek said. "At the hearing, she stated that her decision to terminate Mr. Soos was in no way influenced by his actions at the Democratic Party organizational meeting. However, a subsequent review of her signed statement on file at Human Resources revealed the explanation she offered at the administration committee hearing was diametrically opposed to her earlier written statements. In one instance or the other, Mrs. Smith was not truthful."
Updegrove and Wojtaszek said they anticipate several of their colleagues will join them in opposing Smith's nomination Tuesday.
"The public needs to be able to trust that county government makes personnel decisions based on merit and facts, not politics and payback," Updegrove said. "We're still seeking the truth in this matter."