Amherst Democratic Supervisor Daniel J. Ward has won a round in a several-months-old fight with the town's six Republican councilmen over filling the job of superintendent of the town's sewage treatment plant.
Ward has the right under Town Law to request a "promotional" civil service test to fill the $55,000-a-year position, which has been vacant since January, said Second Assistant County Attorney Michael A. Connors.
Connors' opinion, delivered Friday, is a setback for the Town Board's GOP councilmen, who Monday approved a resolution calling for the Erie County personnel commissioner to schedule an examination open to all eligible town residents.
A promotional exam will be open only to eligible sewage-treatment plant employees -- one or two of the assistant superintendents and four chief operators.
Ward in September provisionally appointed one of the chief operators, Anthony R. Canna, to the plant superintendent's post. However, councilmen have insisted they won't confirm Canna if Ward brings the nomination to a vote.
The opinion from the county attorney's office was requested by county Personnel Commissioner Richard A. Slisz, in view of the conflicting civil service test requests from Ward and the Town Board's GOP majority.
"I don't understand why Ward is deliberately attempting to narrow the field of candidates when, in the best interests of the taxpayers, we should be looking at the widest possible field," Councilwoman Jane S. Woodward, engineering liaison, said.
Ward has said he believes promotions should be made from within town departments when there are qualified subordinates to move up.
"My opinion . . . is certainly not binding on the Amherst Town Board in any way, and they may possibly seek a judicial interpretation of the varying rights in this matter," Connors wrote in a letter to county personnel officials.
"Of course, I want the town attorneys to take a look at (Connors' opinion), but to spend tax dollars on legal maneuvers on this issue would really be a shame," Mrs. Woodward said.
Unless Ward and the GOP councilmen can reach an agreement, the plant could be without a superintendent until well into 1992.
That's because the civil service test for the job "in all likelihood" won't be held until next October, with the results becoming known in the spring of 1992, said Amherst Personnel Director Patrick R. Pujolas.
The county attorney's office "has consistently taken the position that requests for exams, completion of required forms, requests for lists, etc. are administrative rather than legislative functions and, therefore, within the province of a town supervisor," Connors said.
The situation in Amherst, Connors said, is "simplified" by a 1976 local law separating the administration of town government into executive and legislative branches. The town Engineering Department, which includes the sewage treatment plant, is within Ward's executive branch.
"Since the supervisor has the power of appointment as well as administrative responsibility for the Engineering Department . . . I am compelled to conclude that he has the right to request . . . a promotional examination to create a list of candidates for the vacancy," Connors said.
"I can find no basis for concluding that this determination is in any way a legislative function, which falls within the province of the Town Board as a body," the county attorney said.