by Susan Mikula Campbell
Town of Niagara Supervisor Steve Richards, angered by what he perceived as a move by some Town Board members to force him out of office or into administrative leave, broke a lawyer-imposed silence Thursday night and spoke publically on a Grand Jury investigation into town matters.
Richards was due to be arraigned Friday afternoon, Oct. 4, in Niagara County Courthouse in Lockport before Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr.
After a long work session Thursday, Richards eyed television crews crowded against the walls of the town's small meeting room and asked why they were there.
"You were told I was going to be voted off the island," he said, adding that he had yet to see the indictment himself.
When Councilman Rob Clark, a political opponent of Richards, called for an executive session, Richards surged on, saying "from this point forward it gets better for me," explaining that a trial would allow discussion, investigation and a chance to respond to charges levied against him. "For two years, this has been driving me nuts," he said.
He reminded television reporters that an indictment was not a conviction.
"This is the third political hatchet job done on me (in five consecutive terms as supervisor). The last two did not fare well," Richards said. "I'm here to tell the board I'm not going anywhere."
Richards said the people of the town elected him and have kept him in office for 18 years and that the Town Board does not have the right under state law to overset the election.
Clark said he called for an executive session in order to discuss with the town attorney "what should the board do to protect the integrity of the town." He said he also wanted to protect town employees subpoenaed for the grand jury.
Richards pointed out that one of the people sitting at the board table had been arrested and jailed for driving while intoxicated and no town sanction was taken against him before he had his day in court.
Councilman Charles Teixiera, who arrived late at the meeting, said he wanted to ask the lawyer if the governor's new Moreland Commission (created to investigate corruption in state government) could be used in this case.
Councilman Danny Sklarski said that up to this point certain board members have been very diligent about looking over bills related to legal fees and at this point it would be "inappropriate and probably ill advised for the legislative branch (of government) to interfere with the legal system."
Town Attorney Michael Risman said he had no problem on advising the board on what the law is. He added that he was amazed at what already has been in the press about the indictment, which "at this point is not even a public document."
The response of one television reporter questioned by Richards was "We've got sources."
Councilman Marc Carpenter pointed out that Richards is innocent until proven guilty.
"Can we remove him? I don't believe we can," he said, adding that the board, however, does need to know what its options are. "For us to admonish him or whatever might be premature."
Richards' attorney is Rodney Personius.
A number of town employees were called to testify before a grand jury last month. Grand jury proceedings are not supposed to be made public.