Weekly Feature

2010-08-26 / Front Page

Court rules in Scott’s favor

Council members question politics

When West Seneca Town Justice Richard Scott submitted his resignation for retirement in early July, members of the Town Board immediately began the search for the next suitable replacement to fill the vacancy.

As a board, according to council members Sheila M. Meegan and Dale F. Clarke, it is their duty to do so. But while board members focused their attention on looking to hire a suitable candidate from within, they allege that something suspicious began brewing behind closed doors, as evidenced by the recent lawsuit against the town that ultimately ruled in Scott’s favor.

“It’s been a normal progression in town to go to the department in need of filling a job,” Meegan said, referring to the board’s course of action when looking for a candidate to fill a vacancy.

She said this has been a common approach practiced by the town for years. She specifically referred to last year when Matthew English was appointed as highway superintendent upon the sudden death of Patrick Finnegan. Before English’s appointment, Thomas Bausch was temporarily appointed to fill the vacancy.

“No lawsuits ever came about as a result of those appointments,” said Meegan in a prepared statement during the last board meeting, held Aug. 16. “Most employers look for a replacement when an employee resigns, and the Town Board was doing the job the people elected them to do.”

So during a special meeting held July 28, Meegan made the motion to appoint Jeffrey Harrington — the town’s prosecutor and deputy attorney — as the interim town justice. This was seconded by Clarke.

But the appointment allegedly didn’t sit well with others.

According to the minutes from the July 28 special meeting, Town Supervisor Wallace Piotrowski was the only board member to cast a negative vote against the appointment. His justification came from his belief that the board erred in temporarily appointing Scott for one week.

Based on New York State law, whoever was appointed to the position “shall hold office until the commencement of the calendar year,” or through 2010, “next succeeding the first annual election at which the vacancy may be filled.”

Piotrowski previously told The Bee that his interpretation of the law was that Scott should remain as the interim town justice through 2010.

However, Clarke and Meegan felt they were not acting improperly by appointing Harrington based on how other appointments have been handled in the past during their tenure on the board.

They again made the motion to appoint Harrington. Only two affirmative votes were needed due to the board having been downsized to three members.

Two days later, Scott, who again could not be reached by Bee press time, filed a lawsuit against the town.

“Forget majority of Town Board; that doesn’t mean anything anymore,” said Clarke.

Clarke and Meegan feel Piotrowski has been masking political motivations, as the supervisor reportedly has a history with attorney Ralph Lorigo, whose son, Joseph Lorigo, is a candidate for town justice.

Piotrowski later told The Bee that it’s been about 17 years since he last worked with Ralph Lorigo, and he didn’t feel it was necessary to recuse himself related to any issues that might involve Lorigo.

(Piotrowski has been asked by Clarke and two members of the community to recuse himself from any involvement in the decision regarding the proposal to build two senior living apartment complexes on the Houghton College site by Bryan Young of Young Development, who is represented by Lorigo.)

But because of the lawsuit, the ultimate decision was to be made by the courts, which Meegan stressed could have been an avoidable cost to the taxpayers.

“Supervisor Piotrowski was not sure as to what was legal, and if he knew, should have rescinded the motion and corrected it. Instead, the town is paying for legal fees brought on by Supervisor Piotrowski,” she said, adding that he has a fiscal responsibility to the town.

Court decision

Town officials were summoned to court on Aug. 9.

Attorney Joseph A. Matteliano, of Augello & Matteliano LLP, represented Scott as the petitioner, and attorney Paul G. Cleary represented Piotrowski, Meegan and Clarke as the respondents.

Meegan added that Ralph Lorigo’s involvement was confirmed upon going to court on Aug. 9 and that he served as the second chair for Scott.

According to the judgment dated Aug. 16, Justice Gerald J. Whalen ruled in Scott’s favor that he “shall hold that office (of town justice) until December 31, 2010.”

Whalen further states in his decision that there was no dispute that the board was the proper appointing authority; however, “the board did not have the authority to limit the appointment to the time frame cited in the motion and resolution.”

This refers to the board temporarily appointing Scott as town justice, which was said to last from July 20 to 28.

Furthermore, according to Whalen, “the action taken by the board on July 28, 2010 as it relates to the appointment of Harrington as Town Justice is a nullity because a vacancy did not exist on July 28, 2010.”

Both Clarke and Meegan said they are disappointed with the entire situation, and questioned Scott’s intention for resigning.

However, legal documents involved in the case, which were signed by the supervisor and dated July 30, noted that Scott’s resignation was for personal reasons that were “not relevant” to the case.

At the Aug. 16 meeting, Meegan further commented on the restraining order that was placed upon the town by a judge who had later recused himself from the hearing.

“I wonder why that would’ve happened,” Meegan said, alluding to political conspiracies. She said a municipality is always given an opportunity to state its reason for taking action before a restraining order is issued, but the Supreme Court “usurped the prerogative of the Town Board” to appoint Harrington as town justice.

Meegan and Clarke believe that Harrington, who served as deputy town attorney and town prosecutor for the last two and a half years and has 10-plus years in practice, is the most qualified candidate for the position.

Though Harrington’s appointment was deemed null, Meegan said Piotrowski had, at the time, refused to swear Harrington into office. She quoted the supervisor saying, “I can’t do that. I’m with Joey — the Lorigo family.”

In Meegan’s statement to the public on Aug. 16, she said, “I will not be leveraged to do any bidding of any political boss that wants their relatives to benefit at the expense of the town.”

“Now it’s up to the voters,” Clarke said. “I think we’re all in the same boat with having the wool pulled over our eyes.”

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