Sloan Mayor Kenneth A. Pokorski says that when he got a call about a lot of cars parked outside Village Hall one evening not long after the last village election, he walked in on about 30 people -- including two newly elected village trustees -- having what he calls "an unpublicized private party . . . without prior authorization."
Pokorski had the locks changed a few days later, barring access to the building to all but himself and "key appointed village officials."
"The Village Hall is not for private parties because many valuable documents and equipment must be safeguarded," Pokorski declared this week.
But the "private party" was actually a swearing-in ceremony for the two new trustees, who said they felt their election to the Village Board gave them the right to use Village Hall to take their oaths of office from two judges, in front of family and friends.
And the two freshman board members, Dean M. Lach and Dennis A. Sommerfield, claim that Pokorski's action in locking them out of Village Hall was only the beginning of a concerted effort by the mayor and the rest of the board majority to prevent them from doing the job they were elected to do.
Their first board meeting included a public hearing on the village budget, and Pokorski gaveled them out of order each time they tried to speak. The two also say their requests for public records, including contracts and financial reports, have been delayed or denied.
"When I took office, I asked for the Department of Public Works contract and the gas utility contract, which I felt as a trustee I should be able to have. I was refused," Lach said Wednesday.
"As we speak, I've got six Freedom of Information (Law) requests in that go back about three weeks. One of them is for the final revenues and expenditures in last year's budget," Lach said.
"As trustees, we should have access to records. I understand that certain records, like personnel, should be kept locked up, but anything pertaining to the finances of the village, including salaries being paid out and voucher payments, we should have access to," he said.
Pokorski disputed Lach and Sommerfield's complaints.
"They are not barred from this building, and they can see anything they wish," Pokorski said.
The mayor said the whole incident could have been avoided if one of the newcomers had called ahead of time to let him know about their swearing-in plans.
"We can't have people going in and out at all hours. All our records are in there, plus there are insurance (liability) matters," he said.
Pokorski said the no-key rule also applies to the other two trustees on the board, Eugene J. Karp and Leonard Szymanski of the mayor's New Era Party. None of the four have keys to the building "because of the unfortunate misuse by the new trustees," he said.
The mayor said he might consider changing his no-keys-for-trustees policy if Lach and Sommerfield "decided to work with us, rather than against us. They miss work sessions. It took us six weeks to even get their phone numbers. They vote against everything."
For example, the mayor noted that the pair this week voted against changing the next board meeting from Sept. 14 to Sept. 28 because of a conflict with the primary election.
Lach retorted: "That's right. To reschedule the Sept. 14 meeting, they called a special meeting for 3 p.m. Monday, knowing I'd have to take off work, and I did it for a meeting that lasted all of five minutes."
One of Lach's and Sommerfield's backers happens to be the man Pokorski is challenging in this year's election, Erie County Legislator Gregory D. Olma, D-Buffalo. Olma attended the two trustees' swearing-in ceremony in April and claims Pokorski caused an embarrassing ruckus when he "barged in (and) ordered everybody out."
"Greg Olma should stop interfering in matters that concern the village and concentrate on being a county legislator," Pokorski said. "He has a history of being involved in political activities outside his legislative responsibilities.
"Sloan is a very important part of my district, so I don't see how I can ignore the village because he wants me to," Olma responded.