by Susan Mikula Campbell
Who has the power to appoint the town's police commissioner and whether paying that person a stipend goes against state statute dominated the Town of Niagara Town Board meeting on Tuesday.
No members of the public spoke at the public hearing at the beginning of the meeting on amending Local Law 2-1997, so the town supervisor's power to appoint the police commissioner would instead be deferred to a majority vote of the Town Board.
In researching the change at the request of the board, Town Attorney Michael Risman said that he found that state statute allows the town to appoint from one to three police commissioners, however, they should serve without compensation.
The town has paid a stipend to its police commissioners for years. Current police commissioner, Councilman Charles Teixeira received $3,500 this year.
Risman said the local law that allowed the stipend was filed as usual with the secretary of state, and might have been allowed to go through under municipal home rule power. "It was accepted, so I would say that law was presumptively valid. I can't say whether the secretary of state was ignoring it, didn't research it or didn't think about it," he said.
The board adopted the change in the local law, but expects that the commissioner will not receive a stipend in 2014.
Supervisor Steve Richards said he voted against the change because he thought the resolution should include a provision that Teixeira and any previous commissioners not be required to pay back stipends already received.
Councilman Rob Clark got heated while discussing payment of Risman's firm's bill of approximately $2,772 for attorney services to town employees seeking advice before and during recent testimony during grand jury proceedings investigating allegations against Richards. The board voted to temporarily hold back payment of that portion of the attorney's bill.
"This is the exact opposite of what we told you to do," Clark said.
Risman said his firm would not go against the board's stated intent, which was to allow consultation only for employees who wanted to know more about the process. He added that he is not an expert in criminal law, which is why the matter was turned over to another member of his firm.
Councilman Marc Carpenter said his own consultation with Risman was about 45 seconds during which he was told "tell the truth" and was done.
He advised holding the matter for further discussion at a later date. "I don't believe we need to air this in front of everybody," he said.
In other matters:
•Richards reported that contact finally was made Tuesday with the correct person in the state Department of Environmental Conservation regarding complaints by residents of Ziblut Court and Effie Drive about trees being felled as part of Benderson Development's Wetlands Development Project at the former John's Flaming Hearth location. As the town gets more information from the state, residents will be kept informed, Richards said.
•The board set a public hearing for 7 p.m. Jan. 21, 2014, on rezoning property to B-1 that is owned by Cataract Real Estate Holdings LLC and the Bradt family trust to allow Fichte, Endl & Elmer Eyecare to build doctors offices and an ambulatory surgery center. The property is off Porter Road near the I-190 entrance, behind the St. Vincent de Paul Church (St. Leo's).
•The board approved a 5-cent increase in water/sewer rates, effective Jan. 1, 2014. People using 0 to 10,000 gallons and paying a $20 flat fee are not affected by the increase.
•The board approved a resolution to allow Niagara County to hold the Senior Walk in the Park in Veterans Memorial Park off Lockport Road on June 5, 2014. This will be the third time the park has been used for this event.
•The board approved donating 30 tons of millings at $5 per ton to LaSalle Sportsmen's Club, including trucking manpower and equipment, with a total value of $427.
•The board set 4 p.m. Monday, Jan. 13, 2014, for its annual reorganization meeting.
•At the end of the meeting, Town Board members and Town Clerk Sylvia Virtuoso took time to praise Mary Whelan, general manager of Fashion Outlets of Niagara, for all the work she has done assisting with projects in the community. Whelan is leaving the mall for a new position with another company. Virtuoso also praised the work of Highway Superintendent Bob Herman and his crew for always being available to help with town beautification projects, such as the recent addition of Christmas decorations and a tree to the cannon display on Military Road.