The County Legislature on Wednesday spent more than $8.6 million in tobacco revenue without a word of discussion, reserving its lung power for two political resolutions, neither of which actually made the agenda.
As agreed in a Tuesday special session, the lawmakers allocated $2 million to buy new highway trucks and other equipment so used vehicles can be given to the cities.
They also approved the reconstruction of Beach Ridge and Loveland roads; a long list of building repairs at Niagara County Community College; $1 million worth of computer equipment; $300,000 added to the $2.5 million cost of a new public safety building; and a late addition, $44,500 worth of carpets for the Brooks and Civil Defense buildings.
Meanwhile, a resolution by the minority Democrats urging the Republicans to dump Election Commissioner Michael J. Norris was ruled out of order by County Attorney Claude A. Joerg and never came to a vote.
And a resolution by most of the majority Republicans urging the creation of a formal board of inquiry to study alleged political use of county telephones by county Democratic Chairman Nicholas J. Forster failed to reach the floor because Minority Leader Robert L. Seger, D-North Tonawanda, wouldn't sign it.
The Forster resolution was too late for the printed agenda. Such items may be considered only if the chairman and both party leaders sign them.
Seger didn't sign and said some of the Republicans listed as co-sponsors didn't sign it, either. Two GOP members were absent. After the meeting, Legislator Samuel P. Granieri, R-Niagara Falls, said he didn't sign the resolution.
Chairman Clyde L. Burmaster, R-Ransomville, said he would likely resubmit it in time for the March 6 agenda.
Meanwhile, Seger maintained that if Joerg had permitted the Norris resolution to come to a vote, it would have won enough GOP support to pass.
The resolution would have been nonbinding, because under state Election Law only the Republican legislators have a say on who their party's election commissioner is after a certain time elapses, which in Norris' case is long past.
Joerg said, "The Election Law clearly does not give this Legislature the power to ask the Republican caucus to (remove Norris). This resolution is out of order and should be removed from the agenda."
Seger said, "I'm only requesting they take it into consideration in their caucus."
Joerg answered, "You can't give direction if the law doesn't allow it."
Norris and his former Democratic colleague, Judith M. Cirifalco, were accused of working to block a 10 percent pay cut for themselves from taking effect. The Democratic lawmakers declared they would not accept a new term for Cirifalco, and she was replaced.
The Republicans have kept Norris on as a holdover, and say they won't act on formally reappointing him until they see how the criminal cases turn out against Cirifalco and Legislator James W. Ward, R-Newfane. Norris was granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony against Cirifalco and Ward.
Forster was called before the county Board of Ethics after Sheriff Thomas A. Beilein accused him of making $19.99 worth of personal phone calls, which Beilein felt were political, on a county phone at Forster's job at the county Law Enforcement Academy.
Beilein made Forster pay for the calls, which occurred over a two-month period last fall, and penalized him three personal days, worth about $500.
Seger said the board of inquiry might run aground on labor law. "He's already been disciplined, is my understanding," Seger said.
Legislator Malcolm A. Needler, R-North Tonawanda, said there was no proof of that. "I'm saying there's no paperwork filed with the Human Resources Department," he said.
Beilein said he has full authority in departmental discipline under the deputies' union contracts. "It would have been the first time in eight years as sheriff that I would have filed paperwork with the Human Resources Department," he said.
He said he delivered copies of his orders against Forster to Human Resources on Friday, the first time he has ever done that, after receiving a direct request from Human Resources Director Bruce R. Fenwick.