City Council President George A. Spinnegan told a news conference Friday evening at City Hall that he plans to appoint a committee to recommend whether or not an independent counsel should investigate alleged charter violations by five of the nine Council members.
He cited the City Charter as giving him the authority to name committees as needed. He added that his action is not "vindictive, it's middle-of-the-road because I have to work with these people."
However, the accusations have brought a "dark cloud over the city and we must respond to citizen's concerns." Petitions filed earlier in the week signed by 600 residents asked that an independent counsel be appointed.
The allegations, first revealed at two Council sessions in May, contend that five incumbents have violated the charter and their oaths of office. The allegations center on letters sent on "City of Batavia" stationery to other municipalities on the city's withdrawal from a previously approved city-Genesee County water distribution pact. The charter rules are that only the city manager can negotiate with other municipalities.
The five are Council newcomers Kathleen Briggs and Henry E. Mosicki, two long-time foes of the water contract; Rose Mary Christian and Edward DeJaneiro Jr., and Andrew D. Lista who have voted both for and against the water deal.
The petition's five points included a request that the Orleans County district attorney investigate allegations that Lista "may have committed a crime." The 2nd Ward Council member has been suspended from his prison's guard job at the Albion Correctional Facility for allegedly having an "inappropriate relationship" with an inmate at the women's prison. He was suspended without pay in late July and faces an administrative hearing by the Department of Corrections in January.
Spinnegan said Friday that he will write next week to the Orleans County DA because of his concern with the "character of Council members."
The Council president said he will probably name a committee of three who are "not political and above reproach" to study the issue. A letter outlining the charges is to be presented to the Council at its Oct. 10 meeting, and could come, Spinnegan admitted, in an executive session.
The charges, outlined in a letter to the Council in mid-August, were brought by five former Council members: Bruce R. Tehan, a former president, and Barry W. Bower, John J. Hodgins, Catherine K. Roth and Kenneth F. Witt.
So far, the incumbents have not responded to the allegations. Their attorney, D. Michael Murray, has called the charges "ridiculous."
Spinnegan tried to call two special Council meetings, but both were canceled because of lack of a quorum.