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HIRING A NEW TOWN ATTORNEY TOPS DEMOCRATIC AGENDA

When the Democrats take control of the Grand Island Town Board in January, replacing Town Attorney William P. Wiles will be at the top of their list of changes.

For the first time in eight years, town officials will seek legal counsel elsewhere, Supervisor Peter A. McMahon and Councilman Michael E. Heftka indicated during Monday night's Town Board meeting.

"(Wiles) knew, based on votes last time, he wasn't a unanimous appointment," Heftka said after the meeting.

For the past two years, Heftka and McMahon have been in the Democratic minority on the board. But that partisan balance will shift next month, when Kevin Rustowicz is sworn in to take the seat of Republican Andrea Moreau, who stepped down for personal reasons after serving as councilwoman for four years.

Wiles, who is recuperating from health problems, did not attend Monday's meeting. The former town Republican chairman was at the center of much debate in early 1998, when the three Republican councilmen banded together to retain him as town attorney for another two years, despite the reluctance of Heftka and McMahon, both of whom first took office that January.

The two Democrats then had wanted to consider other alternatives for legal services, including having the law firm of Damon & Morey act as attorneys for the town. An attorney for the town would provide a wide range of legal services, rather than a town attorney, whose services usually do not include specialized areas of law.

"We're looking at having an attorney for the town," Heftka said. "We would have the whole scope of a law firm at our disposal."

"We are going to depart from the norm," McMahon said.

This time, the proposal on the table is from Grand Island resident Peter C. Godfrey, who is with the Buffalo firm of Hodgson, Russ, Andrews, Woods & Goodyear.

"I have submitted a proposal about my firm being attorneys for the town," said Godfrey, who joined the firm earlier this year after several years with Damon & Morey. "It's in the hands of the Town Board now."

Hodgson, Russ represents a number of other municipalities in Western New York in a similar manner, as attorneys for the town rather than the traditional town attorney.

In Grand Island, Godfrey said, the firm would provide more than just equivalent services to what Wiles had provided, and at a lower cost -- a savings to the town of more than $6,000 in benefits. The firm also would be able to provide more specialized legal services in some fields that previously had to be contracted out to other attorneys, at additional cost to the town.

If the Town Board decides to hire his firm, Godfrey said, he would step down from his post on the town's Zoning Board of Appeals.

According to records from the Erie County Board of Elections, Hodgson, Russ donated $100 in May to the Grand Island Democratic Committee -- a contribution that Godfrey said is unrelated to the firm's proposal to the town.

"I can assure you that has nothing to do with speaking to the town about representation," he said. "I had absolutely no knowledge of that. It's not a political thing."

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