by Susan Mikula Campbell
Controversy over whether Town of Niagara Supervisor Steve Richards should or even can be asked to step down continued to divide the Town Board on Monday.
This time, Richards kept his temper and followed his attorney's advice not to comment on his court case, the result of an investigation by the U.S. Attorney General's office. In a work session earlier this month, Richards vowed to clear his name and said the charges were politically motivated.
In a late agenda item, Councilman Rob Clark, who has said in the past he intends to seek Richards' seat, asked that the state attorney general's office be contacted for an opinion.
Town Attorney Michael Risman said that as directed by the board earlier, he had contacted the state attorney general's office and was waiting for a return call from the assistant solicitor general in charge of opinions.
Councilman Danny Sklarski said it bothered him to ask for an opinion from the state office that is bringing the charges.
He also said the town attorney already has said the board does not have the authority to put Richards on administrative leave.
"He (Richards) hasn't been convicted of anything," Sklarski said, pointing out that a conviction on any of the counts may or may not happen and the accusations may or may not be true. "A reasonable person would let the court system handle it."
He added that other towns and cities have let the courts rule first, such as the cases of a past Niagara Falls mayor and the current Lewiston supervisor.
Clark, a Belden Center resident, said, "We are already getting questions" (from residents) and that he asked for the opinion to make sure the board was doing "what's right."
Councilman Charles Teixeira also offered a late resolution asking that the town's Board of Ethics look into a possible violation by Richards regarding the town's health insurance. He said he had heard "rumors" that Richards had added without a board vote a spouse of a town employee to the insurance rider.
Jessica Bauer of Lincoln Street in Belden Center, spoke during the public session, saying that Richards might not be guilty in a court of law, but in the court of "public opinion, you are already guilty."
She was the only person in the audience to comment on the court case.
Bauer also scolded the board for not updating roads and drainage in Belden Center and not replacing the pump station on Rhode Island Avenue, which she said led to a mechanical failure helping cause the July 19 flooding in the area.
And, she said instead of spending money at the town's Veterans Memorial Park for dugouts and a splash area, it should do more for the town's pocket parks, like the one in Belden Center.
Richards pointed out that he had included funds for the pocket parks in his budget proposal.
However, those funds might be endangered.
A resolution to have the town engineers design and bid out for construction at Veterans Memorial Park of a splash park, enlarge the playground with handicapped accessible equipment, a fountain in the pond to ensure its survival and eight new Class A dugouts was defeated 3-2, with councilmen Clark, Teixiera and Marc Carpenter voting against the move. The cost of $650,000 was to be covered by the town's New York Power Authority agreement, negotiated by Richards.
Then, the board tabled a resolution by Teixeira to modify the host agreement negotiated with Fashion Outlets of Niagara to have the $200,000 in that agreement moved from the park fund to the general fund.
Teixiera said the money should go to help fund the burden the mall expansion puts on the town in the form of extra police protection and traffic affecting the roadways.
Richards said other funding has been negotiated and extra sales tax revenue will cover those costs. "You're robbing the parks for what?" he said.
In other matters:
• Upcoming scheduled budget work sessions with the Town of Niagara Town Board are:
Monday, Oct. 21; Wednesday, Oct. 23; Monday, Oct. 28; and Wednesday, Oct. 30. All sessions are at 6:30 p.m. in the conference room of the Town of Niagara Town Hall.
Sklarski said the public hearing on the proposed budget will be at 4 p.m. Oct. 29.
•In a late resolution, Clark asked for a complete physical audit of finances and policies from the state comptroller's office. The resolution passed. Clark said last year, money from the reserve fund was used to drop taxes without board approval.
•In an emotional statement, Patricia Wallace, the wife of Recreation Director Lee Wallace asked for an apology from Teixeira. She said Teixeira's remarks at the Oct. 3 work session in regards to the integrity of her husband and her two sons were "totally inappropriate" and her family was owed an apology.
Teixeira said Wallace had run a newspaper ad for recreation employees without consulting the board and included his children in his resolution to appoint re-hires to help with upcoming events, such as the Halloween hayrides.
Wallace said at the work session he had difficulty finding young people who had time available this fall and that his sons had worked hard for the town for years with no problems.
Teixeira said it could be considered nepotism and not look good to taxpayers to hire kids to work under the direction of their parents.
"We were elected to serve the residents," he said.
Board candidate Richard Sirianni, who is running with Carpenter and Teixeira for two open Town Board seats in November, said if Teixeira wanted to talk with Wallace about the situation at the work session, he should have done it in private, not while the television cameras were there that night.
•The board approved a request by Davita Health Care Partners Inc. for a combination of lots and a final site plan for a medical facility, Niagara Falls Dialysis, to be located at 2932 Military Road.
•The board accepted the retirement of Jackie Teixeira and appointed Karin Kuneckie as part-time court clerk in her place.