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Search committee names Updegrove Niagara County manager

LOCKPORT – A Niagara County Legislature search committee on Tuesday named former Republican legislator Richard E. Updegrove of Lockport the next county manager. Republicans predicted a successful four-year administration for Updegrove; Democrats rated him the least qualified of the candidates interviewed.

The vote was 4-3 along party lines, with Legislature Chairman W. Keith McNall, R-Lockport, casting a tiebreaking vote. The same partisan deadlock occurred last time the county filled the manager position, when Jeffrey M. Glatz was chosen in 2010. He is stepping down as of March 31.

The Legislature’s Administration Committee and the full Legislature, both firmly controlled by the GOP, are expected to ratify the appointment at special meetings Friday night.

“The residents of Niagara County, for their third county manager, have the potential for greatness,” said search committee chairman John Syracuse, R-Newfane.

Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, said his side rated the answers to all 15 questions the candidates were asked in interviews, and came out with Updegrove rated third.

Virtuoso tried to nominate his first choice, Martin D. Murphy, the former Cortland County administrator and Oneonta city manager, but Syracuse wouldn’t let him because Legislator Michael A. Hill, R-Hartland, had already nominated Updegrove.

The other finalist was Kim Park, the former Wayne County administrator. Daniel J. Ward, the former Amherst town supervisor and Erie County Legislature majority leader, also was scheduled for an interview, but on Feb. 19 he announced he was dropping out because Updegrove was going to get the job. Ward, a Democrat, deemed further participation “futile and a waste of time.”

The county advertised a salary of $115,000 to $130,000 a year. Pay wasn’t mentioned during Tuesday’s meeting, but McNall said, “I’m thinking it will be around the $115,000 mark.”

McNall said Updegrove’s 12 years in the Legislature, eight of them as majority leader, were impressive to him. “He was chairman of Economic Development. Working with (Economic Development Commissioner) Sam Ferraro, he brought in an unending list of business enterprises,” McNall said.

McNall said choosing someone local was a wise policy, because Updegrove already has strong relationships with local and state officials. “You don’t do that overnight. That takes time. Rick has earned that respect. I think he’ll do a great job,” McNall said.

Updegrove did not attend Tuesday’s meeting and did not return a call seeking comment.

Virtuoso had publicly called the process “a sham,” and Syracuse Tuesday accused him of “poisoning the well” and making “a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

“When I read in the paper that he was calling this thing a sham, my concern was that the integrity of the process was being corrupted by him,” Syracuse said.

Virtuoso said that on a 1-to-5 scale after each answer in the interviews, he scored Murphy with 200 points, Park with 166 and Updegrove with 161.

Updegrove, who turns 50 next week, did not seek re-election last year, saying he needed to devote more time to his law practice. He was a partner in Spadafora & Verrastro, a Buffalo law firm.

Updegrove earned a bachelors’s degree, a master’s degree in business administration and a law degree from the University at Buffalo.