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Town of Niagara discusses subpoenas

by jmaloni
Fri, Sep 20th 2013 07:00 am

by Susan Mikula Campbell

The Town of Niagara Town Board met for nearly three hours Tuesday, with much of the noisiest discussion focused on how subpoenas served on town employees should be handled.

The board also set up a special meeting for Tuesday, Oct. 1. At 6:30 p.m. Supervisor Steve Richards will present the 2014 tentative town budget to the board. At 7 p.m., the board will address two items tabled at this week's meeting - making a SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review) negative declaration for the Fashion Outlets of Niagara expansion and designating the Illusions Cheerleaders as from the town.

The subpoena issue arose over a motion by Councilman Charles Teixeira asking that a policy be established that if any town employee or elected official receives a subpoena and the town itself is not being sued, that person should not consult the town attorney, but seek his own legal representation.

There followed a discussion hedged in by "allegedly" and "hypothetically" with no one admitting on the record that he had received a subpoena.

The state attorney general's office in Buffalo was not able to provide comment before the Tribune went to press. However, various people on the Town Board mentioned a "John Doe" case in the town being handled by that office and an unspecified number of employees receiving subpoenas to testify before a grand jury in Lockport. A grand jury investigates potential criminal conduct and determines whether criminal charges should be brought. Information on a grand jury investigation is not normally made public.

The board finally approved a resolution that allowed the town attorney to give employees advice on the proper proceedings of a subpoena, but if that employee needs personal legal representation, he must hire his own attorney.

Town Attorney Michael Risman said it would not be out of order for him to explain the grand jury process to an employee.

"My advice would be to fully comply with the subpoena and tell the truth. Period," he said.

Councilman Danny Sklarski had argued against Teixiera's original motion saying that the town needed to protect those people receiving subpoenas who are acting in their capacity as a town employee.

He noted that if he was a union member and knew his company wasn't protecting him on company time, he'd be upset. "That's a travesty I will not be part of."

Councilman Rob Clark said he has been called to appear before a grand jury twice and both times legal advice wasn't available. "We don't know exactly what this is about because it says 'John Doe','' he said.

In other matters

•The board approved a request of Allied Waste Services to modify its waste collection days, a move from Tuesdays to Mondays that would affect 10 streets starting Oct. 1. Dave Grenier, Allied general manager, said there will be no reduction in service and that affected customers will be notified. The town also will post the changes on its website.

Grenier said the company has invested in new, covered containers and a front loading operation that will not only improve service, but get the trucks off the streets earlier.

•In regard to the delay of approval of SEQR for Fashion Outlets, Richards said Macerich Niagara, owner of Fashion Outlets, and Benderson Development, owner of the Walmart plaza, had asked for a little more time to negotiate a crossover between the two facilities that would allow customers to travel between the two without going out on Military Road.

Resident Richard Sirianni urged the board to support the mall expansion. "That project is about jobs," he said, adding that the tax revenues generated by the mall would not only be beneficial to town residents, but county residents as well.

Commenting on Teixeira's reservations about safety for the retention pond that is part of the expansion plans, he said, it was needed because of water problems in that area and that there are many such ponds in the county.

•The board decided to become a full member of the Niagara County Sewer District and request that all sewer flow, currently going to Niagara Falls be directed to the county.

Richards said he has been negotiating with the county for two years on the matter because the city cannot handle the sewer flow from the town, which results in flooding of the Belden Center, Richmond Avenue and Veterans Heights areas.

When the town was first sewered, it was under federal funding and before the Niagara County Sewer District was created.

•Richards reported that he was able to assist two different elderly residents of the Belden Center area who had lost water heaters and furnaces during the spring flooding and have been doing without since then. The money came from the town charity fund.

"We all got flooded pretty bad," reported resident Francis Skrypek, noting that he and neighbors had been advised to go to the Niagara Falls meeting regarding state funding relief. He also called the state hotline on the funding and was told nothing could be done. "It's been two months and we haven't heard nothing from anybody," he said.

•A resolution to sell three used town police cars to the National Police Force of Mongolia for $10,000, which is $3,000 more than would have been received on trade in, was tabled until the board's next regular meeting.

Teixiera objected that the vehicles weren't put up for bid and that someone in the U.S. or Town of Niagara might be interested in purchasing them.

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