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Ward says Niagara County manager process is fixed, drops candidacy

LOCKPORT – Daniel J. Ward, the former Amherst town supervisor and Erie County Legislature majority leader, said Friday he withdrew his application to become Niagara County manager because the outcome of the search process is preordained.

Ward, a Democrat, said several sources had told him the next manager will be Republican Richard E. Updegrove of Lockport, former majority leader of the Niagara County Legislature, so he concluded any further participation in the process would be “futile and a waste of time.”

Legislator John Syracuse, chairman of the search committee, denied the charge. He called Ward’s decision to announce his withdrawal in an email to The Buffalo News “unprofessional.”

Actually, Syracuse, R-Newfane, had already heard that Ward was pulling out, but he hadn’t been told why.

Ward was a finalist for Niagara County manager in 2010, when Jeffrey M. Glatz was hired. Glatz is stepping down as of March 31.

Ward’s email to The News stated: “I resubmitted my name and would have liked to compete for the position, and better, to have gotten the appointment and to have served and done the very best I could for the citizens and taxpayers of Niagara County. I enjoy government, and feel I have a real talent there to share with others. However, it has become clear to me that this time the search is not truly open, and that is OK. I understand, as I once served as the majority leader of the Erie County Legislature, and know well how the politics of these bodies go. I wish the presumptive appointee well, but I feel I have better things to do with my time than to pursue a position that is effectively taken.”

Asked who told him that, Ward said in a follow-up email, “I was just advised by several sources that apparently Mr. Updegrove … was slated to get the position.”

Asked Friday if the process was rigged to deliver the job to Updegrove, Syracuse answered, “No. And I don’t have that email. I know our HR (human resources) department has asked him to put it in writing to me, and I find it to be quite unprofessional of him to send something to the media versus sending something to the ad hoc committee chairman. It just shows his unprofessionalism, and it’s too bad. I would have liked to hear what he had to say.”

Dennis F. Virtuoso, minority leader of the Legislature, said at the first meeting of the search committee Feb. 8 that the process was “a sham” and Updegrove was going to get the job from the GOP majority he led until Dec. 31. The Republicans control the Legislature by an 11-4 margin.

Asked if there was a chance that someone other than Updegrove would be hired, Syracuse said, “We’ll see what the people say in their interviews.”

The committee of three Republicans, three Democrats, and one nonvoting citizen chosen by each party will interview Martin D. Murphy, former Cortland County administrator and Oneonta city manager, Monday night. Wednesday, it will interview Updegrove and Kim Park, former Wayne County administrator.

The interviews will be held in closed sessions.

The committee will vote on its choice March 7, and the selection will go before the Legislature’s Administration Committee the next night, Syracuse said. A special meeting of the full Legislature to make the appointment may be held as soon as March 9, Syracuse said.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com