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NEW WITNESSES SUBPOENAED IN ELECTION PROBE

The election commissioner investigation is on again.

The Niagara County Legislature voted, 13-4, on Tuesday to continue the board of inquiry's questioning of witnesses, which the board itself had voted on Aug. 31 to stop.

Subpoenas will be issued for Richard C. Kloch Sr., assistant county attorney; Albert T. Joseph, former human resources director; Michelle Pfeil, personnel technician; and Jeffrey D. Williams, former Legislature clerk.

The open session has been scheduled tentatively for 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 2.

The resolution to call the witnesses was amended to disband the board of inquiry on Oct. 16, the date its report is now due.

Those voting against the calling of further witnesses included all three Republican members of the board of inquiry who showed up Tuesday: Chairman Clyde L. Burmaster, Majority Leader Shirley G. Urtel and Legislator Gerald E. Meal.

Also voting against witnesses was Legislator Gerald R. DeFlippo, R-Lockport.

Legislator James W. Ward, R-Newfane, abstained. He is a witness himself and is regarded by the district attorney's office as a participant in blocking the execution of a 10 percent pay cut the Legislature voted for the election commissioners in 1998.

Urtel complained that the Legislature was trying to keep the board of inquiry from competing its process. "I would rather see the board complete its work," she said.

"I am as eager as anyone to see this end," said Legislator Daniel L. Mocniak, D-Niagara Falls, one of the co-sponsors of the resolution to call the four witnesses. "The Democrats never dragged this out."

Legislator Lee Simonson, R-Lewiston, said, "I will support this for one reason only -- that it has an end date."

The original text of the resolution called for a report by Oct. 16; Simonson amended it to make it ironclad by abolishing the board as of that date.

On a related topic, Legislator Robert L. Seger, D-North Tonawanda, questioned the legality of the salary of County Attorney Ralph A. Boniello III.

Boniello is being paid $54,351, about $4,000 a year more than his predecessor, even though the Legislature never passed a local law to make the raise.

Boniello said that he has asked the state comptroller's office for an opinion, but that his view is that the pay was legal when the budget was passed.

Seger said he thought State Supreme Court Justice Jacqueline M. Koshian ruled on the issue when she torpedoed the election commissioners' pay cut on the grounds that it was done by a budget resolution, not a local law.

Boniello said there is a 1983 decision from a higher court that says otherwise.

In action items on a sparse agenda, the Legislature approved:

Rehiring the Washington lobbying firm of Hyjek & Fix for a third year of looking out for the interests of the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Base. This year, the $158,645.20 fee is being covered by Empire State Development Corp., which is also supplying the county with $41,354.80 with which to reimburse the Niagara Falls Area Chamber of Commerce for its Niagara Military Affairs Council expenses.

Three exceptions to the hiring freeze. They are an assistant district attorney filling a vacancy in the prosecution of drug cases, at a salary of $35,142; and two account clerks in the Health Department, one fully state-funded and the other 30 percent state-funded.

Allocating $92,000 to be used to hire consultants and implement a waterfront recovery program in brownfields in Lockport, Niagara Falls and North Tonawanda. The state will reimburse the county if it succeeds in winning a $184,000 state grant.

Granting title to a vacant, landlocked 50-by-70-foot parcel of land to the Industrial Development Agency. The parcel adjoins the former Inducon Industrial Park in Wheatfield, now owned by the IDA under the name Vantage International Pointe.

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