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DIINA'S TESTIMONY MAY HOLD KEY TO AIDES' PAY SUIT

When Commissioner Rocco J. Diina signed documents last year authorizing salary revisions in the Police Department, he was unaware that some of his top administrators would be deprived of raises that officers received, according to court papers filed by police managers who are suing the city.

If Diina backs up that contention with testimony at a trial, some fear it could weaken the case of the city and its control board, while strengthening the position of the five plaintiffs.

Three current police managers and two retired officials are fighting to receive $5,000 raises and the 3.4 percent increase that rank-and-file officers received last year.

The plaintiffs' attorneys are expected to argue that Diina approved the documents without seeing an actual breakdown of salaries.

Citing his policy against commenting on pending lawsuits, Diina declined to talk about any aspect of the controversy. But the mayor's office often sends commissioners only the signature pages of salary amendments.

Mayor Anthony M. Masiello also declined to comment, saying he plans to review the case with the city's newly hired outside legal adviser. But he acknowledged some uneasiness within the administration over the suit.

"It's not a comfortable position for (Diina) or for me," Masiello said. "These are things we're going to have to work through."

Police officers received the raises last year, in exchange for agreeing to one-person patrol cars and more-flexible scheduling. Five top police managers who, under the City Charter, normally are guaranteed the same increases as rank-and-file officers, did not receive the increases.

The plaintiffs include Deputy Commissioners Mark E. Blankenberg and Crystalea Burns Pelletier, and Police Chief George Loncar. Former Chief Lawrence Ramunno and former Inspector Harold Litwin Jr., both retired, are also plaintiffs.

When news of the lawsuit surfaced two months ago, Diina cited reduced overtime and court time costs as evidence of their accomplishments in arguing that they deserve the raise.

In September, the control board criticized the lawsuit.

The control board's decision to freeze wages faces several legal challenges from city and school employees.

The city, meanwhile, has hired a high-powered Long Island labor attorney to defend it in the upcoming dispute. Masiello confirmed Wednesday that Buffalo has retained Terence M. O'Neil, a lawyer who served as the city's special counsel in the late 1990s during talks that produced a teachers' contract settlement.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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