Maverick Cheektowaga political leader Frank C. Max has entered the fray over staffing shortages in Cheektowaga Town Court, blaming the suspension of jury trials and Small Claims Court on town Supervisor Dennis H. Gabryszak.
Gabryszak had two months to prepare for the end-of-the-year retirements of key personnel in the court and failed to so, according to Max, a town Sanitation Department worker who heads Progressive Democrats of Cheektowaga, an independent political club.
But Gabryszak has said the town couldn't begin the hiring process until early January because the retirees had until Dec. 30 to change their minds. He also said the court never warned top officials that it wouldn't be able to handle small claims and jury trials if two key clerks weren't replaced early in January.
Clerks in charge of jury trials and small claims notified the town in November of their intention to retire at the end of the year, officials said. Gabryszak this week said the two clerks are being asked to return to work until their replacements are hired Feb. 6 and complete a training period.
Gabryszak and other Democrats have suggested that Justices Ronald E. Kmiotek and Thomas S. Kolbert -- supported in the past by Max's Progressive Democrats -- purposely let the crisis develop to embarrass the supervisor and Town Board.
Town Board members say the judges never told them that part of the court operation would have to be shut down if the two jobs weren't filled as soon as possible in January.
"We as a club have never taken a position about shortages in the court, believing it to be an issue between the justices and the supervisor," Max said in a prepared statement Friday.
"However, the fact is Gabryszak had an obligation to read in advance all the intent-to-retire forms submitted by employees and -- having also met with the justices as he did some time ago -- developed a plan before the crisis arose.
"Secondly, he should have informed the Town Board of the progress made, good or bad. He didn't do that," Max said.
The Progressive Democrats' chief bristled at claims the court shutdown was politically orchestrated to embarrass Town Hall. "At one time or another, we've supported most of the Town Board members," he said.
"This is not a Progressive Democrats' issue, this has to do with the Town of Cheektowaga's inability to develop and follow a simple management plan," Max said.
"Even though we support the justices 200 percent, we've never made a recommendation or taken a position on a court issue, nor would they stand still for it if we did. The only time we get involved is when it's time to get them re-elected."
Max also criticized Town Attorney Michael J. Stachowski for pointing out that Cheektowaga residents may press small-claims cases in Buffalo City Court until the staffing situation in their own town court is straightened out.
"If the people of this town pay to have an efficiently operated court, why should they be encouraged to go elsewhere because (the Town Board) won't fill positions?" Max said.