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Evans resident questions costs of town trips

Robert Doering is trying a new tactic -- and an old law -- in his battle with Town of Evans officials over their spending at conventions.

Doering -- who has used freedom-of-information requests to uncover vouchers showing how town officials spent town money at New York Association of Towns conferences in 2004 and 2005 -- has gone to court.

Doering and 34 other Evans residents have petitioned State Supreme Court for an investigation into the town's finances. He is using a section of the state's general municipal law that, he says, hasn't been used since 1928.

"I'm not an attorney, but the last time I can find it being talked about was 1928," he said. "The last time it was used in Western New York was in 1908 in Kenmore, I think. There could be newer stuff, but I'm not aware of it."

The law -- Article 2, Section 4 of general municipal law -- allows a group of 25 or more residents to petition for an investigation.

The catch is, if the group's allegations are upheld, the town would pay for the audit. If the allegations don't hold up, the group pays for the audit.

The case is scheduled to go before Justice Joseph G. Makowski on Jan. 11.

The law allows residents to make such a request when they have reason to believe town money is "being unlawfully or corruptly expended."

Doering has repeatedly made that accusation, particularly with officials' trips to the Association of Towns meetings.

Among the receipts, Doering found records of a town official buying a $41 Lindy's Famous Cheesecake big enough to feed 12 -- just before traveling to the airport to come home.

Larger expenses that Doering has cited include shuttle service fees ($125 each way from airport to hotel for what Doering says is typically a $45 trip), Saturday arrivals for a conference starting Monday, meal reimbursements for accompanying guests and a list of other payments.

Town Supervisor Robert Catalino II did not return calls to comment on the issue.

The New York State comptroller's office ordered the town to conduct an investigation earlier this year. Town Attorney J. Grant Zajas, a Town Board appointee, conducted it and found no wrongdoing.

The residents' group doesn't have an attorney representing it, aside from some help with constructing the case paperwork. Doering is speaking for the group.

He questioned why the town has hired an outside attorney to handle the issue. The town has already received two postponements in the case.

"What is the town doing appointing Hiscock & Barclay to make this go away," Doering said. "They said, 'We welcome an audit.' So why are they challenging this?

"If I'm not 'substantially sustained,' the town gets it free. Why wouldn't they want a free audit. And why are they paying an outside firm $160 an hour to make it go away?"

e-mail: eploetz@buffnews.com

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