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Issues of insurance, ethics complicate board's start-up

The Orchard Park Town Board started off its new year with calls for cooperation and understanding, but also with some issues involving insurance and ethics.

The board appointed a new insurance advisory board, but only after the board's Republican majority denied new Councilwoman Deborah Yeomans' attempt to table the matter.

Yeomans said the town's ethics board has made recommendations that political party officers not be named to town posts. Republican Chairwoman Joann Litwin was one of the committee appointees.

Town Supervisor Mary Travers Murphy voted for the appointments but voiced objections to Litwin's, saying she would prefer that nobody associated with the town's previous insurance committee be on the new one.

Litwin's father, the late Donald Litwin, was on the town's previous insurance advisory committee, which was disbanded under pressure from the state attorney general's office.

An investigation faulted the committee's structure and performance and resulted in the committee members, who received commissions on the town's insurance, paying $60,000 back to the town.

Republican Council Members David Kaczor, Mark Dietrick and Nan Ackerman bristled at any suggestions of impropriety. Kaczor also pointed out that committee appointees are people, not businesses, so there was nothing to hold Joann Litwin back.

Kaczor also said that the new insurance committee is unpaid and that the ethics board's recommendations applied to paid positions.

"Limiting people's political activities outside of their work is an infringement on their constitutional civil rights," Kaczor said. "A community is stronger by participation; it's unfortunate Ms. Litwin is being singled out."

"This is not about the person; it's about the principle," Travers Murphy said. "I think what the ethics board is trying to do and what the public is asking us to do is to take away even the appearance of a conflict of interest."

Dietrick said the board majority had offered an olive branch to Travers Murphy and Yeomans, approving two of their candidates among the four on the committee.

The committee also includes William McNamara, Pat Dendler and Jim Hood. It will advise the board on how to proceed when it renews the town's insurance this spring.

Planning Coordinator Remy Orffeo was reappointed to his post by a 3 to 2 vote, with Yeomans voicing the same concerns. Orffeo is the town's Conservative Party chairman.

e-mail: eploetz@buffnews.com

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