Mayor James C. Galie Monday accused Councilman John G. Accardo of a conflict of interest regarding a proposed contract for an independent study of the Fire Department, because firefighters have worked for Accardo politically.
Galie, just back from a trip to Branson, Mo., charged that two votes by Accardo at last week's Council meeting were conflicts of interest because some city firefighters had participated in a political telephone poll for Accardo early this year.
Accardo was one of six Council members who voted against removing the fire study contract proposed by Galie from the table, where it has been since April. And, Accardo sponsored a resolution asking that the Council be allowed to review the three lowest bidders in an effort to find an acceptable consultant for the proposed study. His resolution was adopted in a 4-3 vote.
Galie said Accardo was guilty of a conflict because, he claimed, the presidents of the two city fire unions, Stefan G. Kundl and Richard L. Horn, made calls for the poll. Kundl and Horn asserted, however, that they did not participate in the poll, which was conducted by telephone at the Accardo family's insurance offices on Pine Avenue.
Galie and Accardo are both Democrats. Accardo is seeking re-election this year, but Galie's term continues through 1999. Accardo said Galie endorsed him at a campaign fund-raiser during the summer.
Galie said he was showed a copy of the poll last April by Nicholas J. Forster, Niagara County Democratic Committee Chairman. The poll asked about recognition and performance ratings of a number of officials from the Governor to the local level. Galie characterized the poll as showing a very poor performance for himself, but Accardo "came out as a shining star."
"I knew it was a biased poll right away," Galie said.
Accardo said the poll was taken on his behalf by a group of volunteers, including some firefighters, who made calls and read from a prepared questionnaire provided to them. Accardo said he didn't think Kundl and Horn were among the volunteers. Accardo said the poll was done at the time he was considering a run for the 1st District seat in the Niagara County Legislature. Accardo said only people who live in the 1st District were called. The 1st District includes the western section of the city from DeVeaux to the South End.
"It had nothing to do with City Council or City Hall," Accardo said.
Accardo later decided to run for another term on the Council and is one of four candidates, including two other incumbents being endorsed by the fire unions, who have been at odds with Galie's administration over manning levels since Galie proposed cutting 27 Fire Department positions last year. The issue also has driven a wedge between Galie and the Council.
Galie said the firefighters have a right to support Accardo "but not to do polling." He said he had not sought a legal opinion on the matter.
Corporation Counsel Robert P. Merino said there is no law against city employees working on the campaigns of elected city officials as long as they do so on their own time.
Galie said Accardo's resolution courted the firefighters' political favor. Galie said the Council has been predisposed against David W. Griffith Associates of Northbrook, Ill., the low bidder and the consultant selected by Galie, because of "pressures from the fire unions." He said he believes it is his administration's right to select the consultant.
"Sometimes you have to take a stern hand. The City Council has to understand the unions don't run this city or the Fire Department. There was a siege immediately because the firefighters opposed this study and the (fire) chief," Galie said.
Since the Council has the authority under the City Charter to approve or reject contracts, Galie said the Council should take the contract off the table and "vote it up or down" instead of permitting it to remain on the table without action.
Council Chairman Vince V. Anello said Monday the Council showed great restraint in tabling the Griffith study rather than voting it down. He said the Council was hoping for a compromise that would bring all parties to the table.
Galie said he believed Accardo's resolution was illegal because the Charter does not allow the Council to interview or choose consultants. Merino said there is a fine line on whether the Council can "delve into administrative actions" and that Accardo's resolution may have crossed that line.