by Autumn Evans
As the year's end approaches, the Town of Niagara prepares for an important change of staff by welcoming a new elected supervisor and seeing the town clerk position fully restored.
Effective Jan. 1, Lee Wallace will become the town's new supervisor, and Sylvia Virtuoso, who has served as interim supervisor for the past seven months, will step down to continue her fourth term as town clerk/tax collector.
Virtuoso said she was happy to return to the town clerk position, which is more "people-friendly" and involves speaking with residents on a more one-to-one basis.
"It is now time to remove one of my hats and hand it over to Lee Wallace, whom I wish the very best, so I may continue on with the job I truly love, and that is town clerk," she said, adding, "I am extremely grateful to the Town Board for allowing me the opportunity to work and meet so many wonderful people who truly show dedication and great work ethic."
Virtuoso became interim supervisor in May after former Supervisor Steve Richards resigned. Councilman Danny Sklarski originally inherited the interim supervisor position, but he chose not to accept it.
"I felt that the democratic process should prevail," he said. "If I had taken over, it wouldn't have given the other councilmen the opportunity to select who they wanted, and in my opinion, that (taking over) wasn't the right thing to do."
He said the board needed someone who could work with all of them and whom they all agreed upon.
"I offered to finish the year with no intention of running for the office, making it fair ground for whoever was interested in running," Virtuoso said, adding her working with the supervisor's office on a daily basis made her a logical candidate.
In the end, the board unanimously appointed her interim supervisor.
"And that's really the way it should be," Sklarski said. "It's truly the democratic process, that's what we're all about. No one individual should impede that process, and that's how I felt - I didn't want to impede the process."
He said he thought Virtuoso handled the town's issues in an "admirable way," adding there was still unfinished business to be taken care of, but "that's for the new supervisor to tackle."
During Virtuoso's months as interim supervisor, the town approved a new Code of Ethics and employee handbook, saw the completion of the Fashion Outlets Mall expansion and approved a 2015 budget that resulted in 2 percent decrease in homestead taxes.
But Virtuoso said she considered bringing the departments and staff together to be her biggest accomplishment, if also the most difficult. Wallace noted the change since Richards's resignation.
"There seems to be more camaraderie between the board members and a lot more openness to the governance policies and how things are conducted," he said. "I know as a department head, which is what I was before I was supervisor, the meetings are more efficient and less cumbersome and seem to be more palatable to anybody who shows up."
He added that he plans to continue in that vein in January, and he doesn't intend to make any big changes in the coming months.
"I'm not one of those people that believes I need to make a mark for myself by coming in and changing things blindly," Wallace said. "There isn't a whole lot of change that's going to take place initially. I'm a 'wait and see' kind of guy. Like I said, making change for the sake of making change, to me, doesn't really make a whole lot of sense."
Wallace has been in Town Hall for the past few weeks getting used to the office so that he can start right away next month.
"I'm looking forward to the challenge. People have been very supportive so far, everyone here in the Town Hall, the Town Board, all the department heads and employees ... everybody has been real cooperative and the transition has been relatively smooth," he said. "The things that I'm working on now, and the transition period that's going on now, will help me and allow me to walk in here the first week of January and start running."
As Wallace and Virtuoso prepare for the changes in their jobs, Sklarski offered his own outlook for next year, saying, "Mr. Wallace and the rest of the board are going to have to work in a way that better serves the residents and the business in the Town of Niagara. And I'm sure we'll do that."