Village attorney says town can't replace Al Soluri
by Joshua Maloni
Al Soluri is back in as a Lewiston police commissioner.
At least for now.
Soluri said Town of Lewiston Supervisor Steve Reiter informed him via a Feb. 15 letter that he was being replaced as one of three police commissioners. Reiter, Soluri said, was intent on appointing Town Councilman Ronald Winkley (the former Lewiston Police Department chief) to serve as a commissioner alongside Town Councilman Ernest Palmer and Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority Acting Board Chairman Henry Sloma.
"Mr. Reiter, on his own, replaced me," Soluri said at Tuesday's Village of Lewiston Board meeting. He said he didn't know if the supervisor could make such a decision, and he told trustees, "I'm in no man's land right now. ... This should be rectified one way or another."
At the Town of Lewiston's Jan. 9 re-organizational meeting, Councilman Alphonso Bax moved for the appointment of Winkley, Palmer and Sloma as police commissioners. Councilman Mike Marra seconded the motion. The council voted 4-0 to approve the measure. Winkley was absent from the meeting.
Village of Lewiston Attorney Edward Jesella took umbrage with that decision and, in no uncertain terms, told Soluri he is still the village's representative.
"As far as I'm concerned, you're a commissioner," Jesella told Soluri. "He had no right to appoint someone else."
Jesella, who was the town attorney when the village and town police departments were consolidated into the current Lewiston Police Department in 1995, said the decision to remove Soluri was "ill advised," and contrary to the initial agreement.
"There's nothing in the contract that allows the town to take such action," Jesella said.
He suggested recent requests to discuss the current police contract have fallen on deaf ears. Jesella said he sent a letter to the town on Nov. 14, 2011.
"I never even got the courtesy of a reply," he said.
Jesella said one commissioner is appointed by the town, one by the village, and one by mutual appointment.
Soluri said the commissioner shakeup was unfair to Lewiston Police Chief Chris Salada, whom he said was caught in the middle.
To that, Jesella said, "I'm telling you, Mr. Salada, he (Soluri) is a commissioner."
When reached by phone Tuesday night, Reiter said, "I don't want to talk about personnel issues."
He said the Village Board is "entitled to their opinion, I guess," and said the Town Council would meet with village trustees to discuss the commissioner positions.
Reiter said part of the issue is that "they (the village) haven't paid their full share this year" of the police budget. The village was charged 23 percent (or $276,710) of the total cost. Moreover, he pointed to more recent contract negotiations and said it's his understanding the town is to handle police and administrative decisions.
He added, "We think there's some issues in the police department," and said, "We just figure that they (Winkley and Palmer) have more experience. We just think that's the better way to go."
Reiter said Winkley and Palmer have almost 50 years of police experience on the Lewiston, Youngstown and Niagara Falls police departments.
Winkley, he noted, is a village resident.