Town announces new ad hoc committee on police reform
By Terry Duffy
Changes for 2021 continued Monday with the Town of Lewiston.
Following on last week’s Town Board reorganizational session, Supervisor Steve Broderick reported changes within the town attorney’s office and on the board itself. Broderick said 2020 attorney for the town, Thomas Seaman of Seaman Norris, would be restructuring his duties with the town for ’21 and continue on only as a consulting town attorney.
“He was unable to do this role with us,” Broderick said of Seaman’s departure. He noted Seaman would continue to serve the town as an independent counsel with the town’s Planning Board and its Zoning Board of Appeals, as well as other town functions.
In his place would be Councilman Alfonso Marra Bax, a practicing attorney and 15-year Town Board member who officially resigned his board position Monday to take on the new role.
“Please let this letter serve as my formal resignation as councilman for the Lewiston Town Board effective Jan. 11, 2021,” Bax wrote in a letter to the town. “It has been an honor and privilege to serve on the board for the past 15 years.”
Soon after, Bax was appointed to cover the town’s legal responsibilities for 2021 in the newly created position as town attorney at a salary of $39,000 annually. The appointment takes effect immediately.
In his place as town councilman, Broderick and the board moved to approve the appointment of Rob Morreale to fill the remaining term on Bax’s seat. A popular former Town of Lewiston councilman who lost his 2019 reelection bid, Morreale’s appointment takes effect immediately.
Morreale was a Democrat when running for office, but has since changed his party affiliation to Republican. John Jacoby is the town’s lone Democrat on the board.
Both took their oath of office in a brief swearing-in ceremony by Town Clerk Donna Garfinkel.
Next up, the board held a public hearing to consider construction of a helipad on the property of Mount St. Mary’s Hospital on Military Road. The new facility would enable the hospital’s Cardiac Center to better work with similar centers in Buffalo-Niagara in the transferring of cardiac patients as needed. It would be constructed on one of the hospital’s parking areas with modifications done. MSM officials were seeking changes to the town’s planned unit development zoning to allow for the project.
The hearing itself saw no comments from attendees at the Town Hall session or on Zoom, save for some concerns by Town Building Inspector/Code Enforcement Officer Tim Masters, who spoke of the potential loss of up to 80 parking spaces in the hospital’s parking lot.
“With the reconfiguration, there is going to be 696 parking spaces, which meets the minimum requirement for the hospital,” said MSM spokesman Edward Perlman of Magaveran, Magaveran Grimm LLP. He said the construction would result in the loss of approximately 80 spaces, but added the hospital has had an excess of parking spaces. The planned reconfiguration, he said, would better suit hospital needs while satisfying the minimum parking requirements under state law.
Masters commented the current MSM parking specifications fall under provisions of an outdated town code, and suggested in the future the hospital would have to review these, with additional parking modifications in mind.
“There’s some availability of the west side,” Perlman said. “”We’ll do whatever we can to comply with state codes.”
Soon after, a negative declaration was approved with respect to State Environmental Quality Review specifications for the project, as well as the planned unit development and detailed plan approval for the helipad.
Hospital officials said the project would be going out to bid and a spring construction startup was anticipated.
In other news, the Town Board revealed a planned ad hoc committee, mandated by the state to consider reforms for the Lewiston Police Department.
“We’ll be scheduling meetings for this week,” Chief of Police Frank Previte said.
Ad hoc committee members include Broderick, newly appoint town attorney Bax, Previte, Lew-Port Superintendent of Schools Paul Casseri, Niagara-Wheatfield Superintendent of Schools Daniel Ljiljanich, Village of Lewiston Mayor Anne Welch and Deputy Mayor Vic Eydt, Jennifer Pauly of the Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce, and James Bissell, representing the Tuscarora Nation.
According to Seaman, who was at the session, the purpose of the ad hoc committee “would be to solely investigate police reform as outlined in the governor’s executive order 203.”
According to Section 203, approved and signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last June in response to the police-involved death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the resulting national protest, “Each local government entity which has a police agency operating with police officers as defined under 1.20 of the criminal procedure law must perform a comprehensive review of current police force deployments, strategies, policies, procedures, and practices, and develop a plan to improve such deployments, strategies, policies, procedures, and practices, for the purposes of addressing the particular needs of the communities served by such police agency and promote community engagement to foster trust, fairness, and legitimacy, and to address any racial bias and disproportionate policing of communities of color.”
The committee is expected to remain in place is until the state requirements are fulfilled.
•The board approved an $8,300 expenditure, covering rental of an excavator and related transit costs from Villani Constriction. The equipment would be used by the town Highway Department for work on the upcoming River Road Park project.
•The board approved for Recreation Director Mike Dashineau to begin planning for the town’s 2021 summer Recreation Department’s offerings of 21 programs, including summer hires and program registrations. Currently, the summer rec program remains in a moratorium under state COVID-19 restrictions. The town is expected to review this matter further as the state’s COVID return to business continues.