By Joshua Maloni
Though Village of Lewiston Counselor Joseph Leone again suggested on-street boot drives are illegal in New York, trustees in the Village of Lewiston voted 4-1 Monday to allow Lewiston No. 1 Volunteer Fire Co. to continue its annual Center Street fundraiser this year.
Just two weeks prior, Leone said he re-read New York law and came to the conclusion, "nowhere in the state can people be in a state roadway for purposes of soliciting. They can be on state highways, on the berm part, in villages and cities."
He also said, "I ... think that it's illegal to do a boot drive in the center of the road."
That didn't stop LFD President Matthew Grainge and Vice President Les Myers from petitioning the board to allow firefighters access to the state-run street for the purpose of collecting donations.
"On behalf of the fire company, I would like to again request of the Village Board that we continue to do our boot drive on Center Street," Grainge said. "Our boot drives were initiated a few years ago based on a gap in funding for our ambulance service, which is done completely on donations. Last year alone, we had 835 calls - 579 of them were solely EMS. Many others also requested the ambulance to respond. ...
"Our boot drive was created to help fund that, and help our ambulance get out and have the equipment that we need on it."
Grainge said firefighters are trained to safely maneuver around traffic, they wear reflective vests and, during boot drives, set up a safe perimeter, which includes flashing lights.
Moreover, Myers said the drive takes place on Artpark & Company Tuesday concert nights, when Center Street traffic is reconfigured and adjusted to filter into two parking lots. He said the firefighters would be out of traffic's way.
"We're not infringing on people trying to get into Artpark, down Portage Road or anywhere else," Myers said.
Grainge said, "We know where to park; we know where to stand. ... I'll say that we do a very good job in the road, because that's our business. And it's our business for our members to go home at the end of every call, as well."
Last month, Deputy Mayor Bruce Sutherland said prohibiting the boot drive would hinder the LFD, which, in turn, would push the firefighters to collect in competition with local food pantries and/or require the village to find alternative funding sources.
On Monday, Sutherland said the state law is too vague.
Section 1157 of the New York state vehicle and traffic law reads, "No person shall stand in a roadway for the purpose of soliciting a ride, or to solicit from or sell to any occupant of any vehicle." It also reads, "No person shall occupy any part of a state highway, except in a city or village, in any manner for the purpose of selling or soliciting."
Sutherland said, "I believe there's gray area there that allows us to proceed."
"Other fire units in the area are also doing boot drives in the middle of the street," he added. "We have been doing that for many years without incident."
"If anybody's trained, these guys are trained to do it," Trustee Dan Gibson said.
Leone reiterated his opinion that solicitors can operate from the sides of a state roadway, but not on the roadway itself.
"My advice remains unchanged," he said.
"I'm entirely supportive of the fire company," Leone said. "Heck, at one time I think I did some work for the fire company. I was involved in bringing a procedure to court on your behalf. I'm all for you guys - 100 percent. Having said that, though, I've been asked to look at the law. I looked at the law. That's the opinion I've come up with."
The state attorney general's office recently declined to offer an opinion on this matter.
Sutherland made a motion to allow firefighters - and only firefighters - permission to hold a Center Street boot drive until such time as the AG's office offers a contrary decision. It was approved on a 4-1 vote. Mayor Terry Collesano cast the lone "No" vote.
"The reason I said 'No' is not because I'm against the fire company," he said. "I am an exempt fireman. But I have to base what I'm hearing from our attorney that could jeopardize us as officials sitting here on this board. It could also jeopardize the Village of Lewiston taxpayers, if there were a catastrophe on the street. ... Because of that, I have to rely on what the attorney's telling us. That's the reason we have an attorney, is to take his advice.
"And, to be truthful about what's happening with the attorney general's office ... I believe that it's a political football."
"If anything happens, it's up to us," Collesano added. "The state's out of it. They washed their hands of it. So, I have to rely on (Leone). ... That's the reason I voted 'No.' "
Democrat Party caucus
The Village of Lewiston Democratic Committee held its caucus Monday. Members selected Jamie Symmonds and Keith Ahlas to run for the two four-year trustee positions up for grabs on June 21.
Incumbent Republicans Gibson and Nick Conde are both seeking re-election.