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Council may bypass mayor and OK courthouse contract

The City Council may bypass the mayor and vote today on a contract to develop a planned $37.5 million public safety complex on North Main Street.

First, all five Council members must agree to add a resolution to the agenda of a special meeting set for late this afternoon in City Hall. Sponsored by Councilman Lewis Rotella, the resolution is to approve the latest draft of an agreement submitted Thursday by the city's chosen developer, Ciminelli Development Co. of Amherst and Largo Real Estate Advisors of Wheatfield.

"I'm ready to vote," Rotella said Thursday. "We've got to do something. We have to show the [state Office of Court Administration] something. Ciminelli gave in to everything the mayor had asked for in the latest request."

The move would give the Council a chance to decide on an agreement that has been through 20 drafts since November. Constant delays have angered state court officials, who mandated the city replace its courthouse or face up to $12 million in sanctions.

Approval would require three votes, and the city's charter doesn't give the mayor the power to veto, according to Falls attorney Edward Perlman.

Perlman drafted the resolution at the request of Council members and said it would empower the recently appointed courthouse committee to oversee construction from now on.

Perlman was hired this year by Ciminelli/Largo to advise the developer and Council on municipal law and the city charter, but he hasn't been part of negotiations.

Mayor Vince Anello said the Council does not have the power to bypass him, and several issues with the proposed contracts have never been ironed out.

"Whose authority is it to say that the contract has been negotiated enough?" Anello asked Thursday. "The authority to propose goes to the mayor, the authority to dispose goes to the Council."

Corporation Counsel Ronald D. Anton said the contract would need Anello's signature, but Perlman says there's nothing in the city charter that requires the mayor's signature.

The charter states that the Council has the power "to enter into contracts, franchises, and other agreements," and the mayor "shall negotiate contracts, franchises and other agreements on behalf of the city subject to ratification by the council."

Anello told the Council several times this year that the city could build the complex as a public works project. He wanted the Council to discontinue negotiations with Ciminelli, but it refused.

There are several signs that Anello is still planning for a public works project. The city recently made a public request for concept drawings, work that would be included in Ciminelli's agreement. A city economic development employee recently offered to buy land on the project footprint, which Largo had already negotiated to purchase.

This week, Council members obtained a copy of a detailed timeline drawn up by the city Engineering Department that assumes the city would hire its own architect and project manager to pursue the complex as a public works project, Rotella said.

"It's bull. And we've been dragging this thing on with these alleged situations and problems," said Councilman Robert Anderson Jr. "Let's give them the contract and let them do the job, or fire them and get [another developer] for the next contract."

e-mail: gfranklin@buffnews.com

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