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RETURN SOUGHT OF 2 RETIREES AMIDST BACKUP IN TOWN COURTS

Two clerks whose Dec. 31 retirements prompted Cheektowaga Town Court to suspend jury trials and postpone Small Claims Court cases are being asked to return to work until their replacements are hired and trained, Town Supervisor Dennis H. Gabryszak said Thursday.

Florence Walentynowicz, the clerk in charge of small claims, has already agreed to come back on a temporary basis. Barbara Trietley, who ran jury trials, will be asked as soon as the town can reach her, Gabryszak said.

No pay increases are being offered to the two women, he said.

Their jobs have been posted, and replacements are scheduled to be hired at the Town Board's next meeting, which is on Feb. 7. It will take about two weeks to train the new clerks, according to officials.

Justices Ronald E. Kmiotek and Thomas S. Kolbert said they were forced to suspend a number of jury trials and postpone dozens of small-claims cases because the Town Board failed to replace Walentynowicz and Trietley as soon as they retired. Both employees' intentions to retire were known for about two months, yet the board dragged its feet on filling the vacancies, the judges complained.

But Gabryszak and Town Board remembers responded that they were not mind readers, that the judges never said they would have to shut down part of their operation if the two clerks were not replaced within a few days.

Some town Democratic Party leaders suggested that the judges -- backed in the past by Progressive Democrats of Cheektowaga, an independent political club -- allowed the staff crisis to develop to embarrass Gabryszak and other Democrats on the Town Board.

Gabryszak argued that because retirees had until Dec. 30 to change their minds, replacements could not be hired until the job openings actually existed. Twenty-one workers retired at the end of the year, so several departments are working short-staffed during the union-mandated hiring process, the supervisor said.

"What do they do over there when someone takes two weeks vacation? Don't they cross-train their people?" Gabryszak said Thursday.

"Since this whole thing began, I have yet to hear from either one of the judges about their situation or what they need -- not in person, not on the phone, not in correspondence. All I know is what I read in their memos (to the Eighth Judicial District) and in the newspaper," the supervisor said.

"I now understand the court is telling anyone calling about small claims or jury trials to call me or the Town Board. If they can't run their court, let them just come out and say so and stop playing games and start serving the public the way they were elected to do," Gabryszak said angrily.

The judges did not return phone calls seeking comment Thursday.

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