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Amherst board votes to hire 5 for police force Authority issue remains in dispute

The Amherst Town Board finally agreed Monday to fill a handful of vacancies on the town's 154-member police force.

But the effort required almost an hour of debate and the aid of three lawyers.

Despite the unanimous vote to accept the police recruits, the main issue in the dispute -- who has the power to appoint police officers -- has not been settled.

That, spokesmen for both sides said, could take a decision by a state appellate court.

"I'm doing what I said I would do. I said I will hire the five officers, but I will protect the sanctity of the town's law," Supervisor Satish B. Mohan said.

The dispute began last spring when Mohan refused to appoint three new officers to the police force.

The board had set aside funds for the officers, who, supporters of the measure say, are needed to patrol the Eggertsville and Snyder areas of Amherst.

Mohan argued that each officer could cost taxpayers $3.7 million over the officer's lifetime.

The Amherst Police Club, the union representing police officers, filed a lawsuit seeking to force Mohan to approve the police hiring.

In early November, State Supreme Court Justice Joseph R. Glownia ruled in favor of the police union, saying Amherst's 1976 town code conflicted with state laws on municipal officials and their powers.

Town Attorney E. Thomas Jones took issue with Glownia's ruling, which he said threatens much of the town code that was adopted by referendum in 1976.

The ruling, Jones said at the time, "goes to the heart of the structure of Amherst town government."

Glownia has not a written decision, meaning his ruling has not become final.

Once it becomes official, Mohan has vowed to file an appeal.

Monday, Mohan introduced Sean P. Beiter, the Buffalo attorney hired to represent him in the case.

Not to be outdone, Council Member William L. Kindel, a leading critic of Mohan, introduced Richard Lippes, the attorney who will represent Kindel and the other four board members who oppose Mohan.

Mohan has the support only of Council Member Shelly Schratz.

After the meeting, Kindel said a majority of the board will prevent Mohan from seeking a higher court review of the issue by cutting off funding for the appeal if necessary.

"There will be no appeal," he said.

Mohan opened Monday's meeting by offering to hire the three new officers, plus two other recruits, bringing the department to 154 officers.

But several board members balked at the wording of the motion.

Council Member Deborah Bruch Bucki offered a similar measure.

After more arguing, the board asked Jones and the attorneys hired by the two board factions to rewrite the hiring motion to omit the arguments of both sides.

When the lawyers finished, the board voted, 7-0, to hire the officers.

e-mail: tdolan@buffnews.com

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