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Falls GOP chief Sandonato hired as Wheatfield HR director

WHEATFIELD – Vincent M. Sandonato, a former Niagara County legislator and chairman of the City of Niagara Falls Republican Committee, was appointed late Monday as the new Town of Wheatfield human resources director.

The Town Board’s 4-1 vote to hire Sandonato came after an executive session, during which all members of the audience went home.

Sandonato, 29, is to be paid $800 a week for what Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe called a “half-time” job.

The appointment is provisional, and Cliffe said if Sandonato wants to hold onto the position long-term, he will need to finish in the top three on a civil service examination, which has yet to be scheduled. The county Human Resources Department said it has no job specifications or list of qualifications on file for the post.

Sandonato said he’d “absolutely” be interested in keeping the job. “I like municipal law. I like administration, contracts,” he said.

Cliffe said the job was never advertised or posted. It was last held by former Town Attorney Roberta J. O’Toole, who resigned from both posts at the end of June. She was being paid about $98,000 a year for the double duty.

The Town Board hired Matthew E. Brooks as town attorney for $54,000 a year, but chose not to give him the human resources job, too.

“Instead of having one person handle all the duties, they wanted to make it two,” Sandonato said.

Asked what human resources background Sandonato has, Cliffe answered, “Just what he learned in college.”

“It’s law-related,” said Sandonato, who graduated from the University of Dayton Law School last year and passed the bar exam a year ago. Since then, he said, he’s been doing the legal equivalent of piecework for other local attorneys. But he said he’s been boning up on the impacts of the Affordable Care Act on local governments.

“What they need to do is update employee manuals, cover their liabilities from that side,” Sandonato said. “Based on discussions I’ve had, it was more along the lines of doing Obamacare filings, making sure their payroll was up to date, reviewing contracts for the employees and having the town attorney address the legal issues.”

He said the town approached him after O’Toole handed in her notice in late May.

“He’s a budding attorney. We’ll be able to get him as a reasonable rate,” Cliffe said. “It’s a pretty unique opportunity for us.”

The job doesn’t require Sandonato to move into Wheatfield or give up his city GOP chairmanship. However, he said he would give up a consulting arrangement he was given by the county GOP in January, under which he has received four payments of $1,500 each.

“Now I’m off the payroll. I work for the Town of Wheatfield and the Niagara County Republicans will not pay me another penny,” Sandonato said.

The only vote on the all-Republican Town Board against the hiring came from Councilman Randy Retzlaff. “I would have preferred a little more thorough search among the townspeople,” Retzlaff said. “That’s always my preference, to hire within the town.”

County Democratic Chairman Nicholas J. Forster predicted there will be political fallout in the town from the Sandonato appointment. “Here’s a guy with absolutely no experience. He doesn’t even live in the Town of Wheatfield. He’s never had a job in his life,” Forster charged. “This is blatant, ugly politics.”

Sandonato said, “I think it’s ironic that Nick Forster, who lives in the City of Niagara Falls, is criticizing this cost-saving plan. He champions the mayor of Niagara Falls, and the City of Niagara Falls is on the verge of insolvency.”