Weekly Feature

2010-05-06 / Front Page

Board disputes employee training conferences


During the Town Board’s Monday night meeting, Councilman Dale F. Clarke refused to vote in favor of a request made by the police chief to attend a summer training conference in Fairport, N.Y.

The cost of the conference — which is not to exceed $1,136.92 — is said to be covered by sufficient funds allotted to police in the town budget, according to both Supervisor Wallace C. Piotrowski and Chief Edward F. Gehen Jr.

However, Clarke challenged the request by saying it is an inefficient use of funds, which is ultimately paid for by residents.

“My main concern is for the taxpayers,” Clarke said. “The town needs to start watching its spending on these things.”

Gehen said he’s participated in the conference every year for the last nine years as chief, and it also was attended by the former chief for a number of years.

Attending has never before been a problem, even though it is not legally required by the state to attend, he said.

During the dispute, Piotrowski said he personally made the effort two years ago to have the board approve only state-mandated training conferences; however, the motion was denied by the board at that time.

“But it’s in the budget, so I’m in favor,” Piotrowski said Monday night.

Resident Frank Russo, one of several longtime critics of the Town Board, said he also believes the town should not support town employees’ attendance at training conferences. He feels the move would be helping each individual to “update their resumes” to eventually leave the town.

“I don’t think we should pay for them to look for a new job,” he told board members.

Clarke’s argument was eventually overruled by Piotrowski and Councilwoman Sheila M. Meegan, who voted in favor of the chief attending the conference.

Outside the meeting, Gehen said the conference is a great informational and networking tool that affords him the opportunity to learn from and discuss procedures with other police chiefs. The conference also covers a large portion of training time that is required of the chief.

The three-day conference offers a presentation by Gordon Graham, a professional speaker on risk management who draws on his longtime experience in law enforcement and as an attorney.

Additionally, other topics covered this year and throughout previous years include how to properly deal with sex offenders, vehicle and traffic pursuits, crime scene investigations, local government efficiency and officer-safety issues — all topics that police have engaged in firsthand since the start of this year alone.

“I take these conferences seriously,” Gehen said. “It’s valuable for every police executive to attend and bring back information that will be valuable for each individual agency ... it gives you a better perspective with what you’re doing, how to do it better or reassurance that what we’re doing works.”

During the meeting, Piotrowski alleged that Clarke is harboring ill feelings toward the chief who, during a Town Board meeting earlier this year, prohibited all non-police personnel — which includes elected officials — from entering the dispatch area.

“It was petty on his [Clarke’s] part,” Gehen said. “I’m not going to dignify his comments or position. People can see through his comments ... for what they are.”

Gehen said the request was made in an effort to keep the dispatch area — which contains various sensitive, confidential information — as quiet as possible, and that something as simple as a conversation has proved to be too much of a distraction.

“My dedication is to the Town of West Seneca ... and I don’t think anyone can really question that,” added Gehen, who’s been a town employee for 30 years.

Despite Clarke’s initial dissent, he joined the rest of the board in approving the next item on the agenda: a request for two of the department’s detectives to attend the Canadian and American Law Enforcement Organization training conference in Niagara Falls in late May.

The cost of this training is not to exceed $605 and is also said to be covered by sufficient funds allotted to police in the town budget.

In other matters, Piotrowski said town employees are in the process of receiving, and eventually signing, the newly updated ethics code. The codes are expected to be distributed with the next series of paychecks, according to Town Attorney Shawn P. Martin.

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