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Hamburg reorganization turns into blizzard of political bickering

Talk about a winter storm. Hamburg’s reorganization meeting Monday night saw bickering – and some snickering – over attempts by the new Democratic majority to make appointments and cut positions, stipends and the supervisor’s new vehicle.

Democratic Board Members Michael Quinn and Tom Best Jr. said many of the changes were made to save money. But some of the moves clearly seemed political: The deputy supervisor’s position, held by former GOP Councilwoman Amy Ziegler, was eliminated over her protests and warnings from Supervisor Steven Walters.

The board also voted, 2-1, with Walters voting no, on personnel changes that laid off 57 part-time and one full-time employees. Those were to negate the layoffs of about 70 part-time workers and two full-time workers in the highway and buildings and grounds department.

 And the board appointed former Councilman Joseph Collins as deputy town attorney on an identical 2-1 vote. Collins and Ziegler often clashed when both served on the board.

 Ziegler suggested that the board eliminate the position and save $25,000 a year. Towns of similar size have the deputy town attorney act as prosecutor, she said, while Hamburg has both plus the town attorney. She also implied that the former deputy town attorney was a no-show on the job.

“That goes a long way to return those part-time and full-time layoffs,” she said. “I’ll take a plow out on the roads tonight, rather than pay a deputy town attorney.”

Ziegler also said Quinn should recuse himself from voting on the Collins appointment, because they are law partners and share a professional stationery letterhead. Collins said they are not partners, but he has a solo practice in the same building.

At one point, she chided Quinn for not taking ramifications seriously.

“Thank you for putting me in my place,” he said, prompting some high school students observing the meeting to chuckle.

Last year’s Town Board, which included Quinn and Walters, approved the layoff of two full-time workers in the highway and buildings and grounds departments for this year. But before full-time employees in those departments could be laid off, all seasonal and part-time workers must lose their jobs. Layoff notices went out to about 70 workers last month.

Quinn and Best said the layoffs they approved Monday night were made after talking to department heads. Highway Superintendent Tom Best Sr., the father of the councilman, said 15 to 20 of those slated for layoffs Monday night were in his departments and 20 to 30 were in recreation, although some of those were summer seasonal positions. Layoffs also included a part-time assessor and a full-time court employee.

“I will be scrutinizing my budget. Just because they’re not laid off this month, doesn’t mean they won’t be laid off next month,” Best Sr. said.

Ziegler correctly predicted the board would eliminate the deputy supervisor’s post. But the supervisor said there are some duties that can be done only by the deputy when the supervisor is not available, such as declaring a state of emergency and calling a meeting. The post paid $1,600 a year. Quinn said the elimination could be revisited in two weeks.

“Are you going anywhere the next two weeks,” he asked Walters.

“I may be,” Walters replied.

The board also voted 2-1 to reverse the designation of the supervisor as the police commissioner, and the board as a whole will perform the duties.

“I would assume this is political,” Walters said.

“I would say that Tom (Best) is the retired policeman and he kind of knows about this stuff,” Quinn said.

The Democrats tried to eliminate the $7,500 stipend the supervisor gets as budget officer, but Walters said they could not because the salary and wage scale had already been approved. They also tried to transfer the supervisor’s new Tahoe SUV to the police department and have him keep his nine-year-old town vehicle with 38,000 miles. But Walters said only the supervisor can direct the resources in the departments.

email: bobrien@buffnews.com