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Campaign heats up on changes in charter North Tonawanda rife with allegations

As Election Day approaches, the political rhetoric in the Lumber City is sizzling even though there are no local races this year.

But Tuesday's ballot will include five proposed changes to the City Charter, the document that establishes the structure of city government.

Two of the changes would alter top city positions.

Accusations, meanwhile, are flying back and forth between Republicans and Democrats.

Some involve a mailer that pictures Mayor Lawrence V. Soos sitting in a wheelbarrow and asks, "Do you think Larry Soos is smarter than you?"

Questions also have arisen about a planned mailer supporting the charter changes that would have been funded by taxpayer dollars, which opponents say would have been improper.

"They're going after me right now because they know I'm going to run for mayor again," Soos, a Democrat, said of the mailer bearing his photo, which has been sent out by the County Republican Party.

"I don't mind being tied to the charter [vote], because it's a good idea," he said.

Soos said the flier that was to be mailed from City Hall had been created by the Charter Review Committee, not him or anyone in his office.

He told The Buffalo News he likely will end up paying for the first run of mailers, which cost about $3,000, out of his own pocket.

New fliers, designed more as an informational piece, will remove endorsements of the proposed changes, Soos said.

Common Council President Brett M. Sommer, a Republican, said he disagrees with the recommendations of the charter committee, which he said wouldn't compromise with others with experience working in government.

Sommer called it "amazing" that no one in the mayor's office realized it was improper to print the flier and plan to pay for it with taxpayer money.

"They've admitted it [was wrong] by changing it," Sommer said.

Randy C. Fahs, committee secretary, said the group asked the Council for funding in writing on at least two occasions, but was told to look to the mayor's office for money.

The two most controversial proposed changes would make the elected city attorney position into a mayoral appointee, and combine the city treasurer and city clerk positions into one elected position.

Supporters say the changes would save the city money and provide a more efficient government.

Critics say they would consolidate power and remove checks and balances, without producing any savings.

Wednesday, in a memo to Soos, Assistant City Attorney Robert Sondel said the city should educate the public about the proposals and the charter committee should explain its reasons for recommending the changes.

"The city should not be advocating any official endorsement of the charter changes or any other political position," Sondel wrote.

Henry F. Wojtaszek, chairman of the Niagara County Republican Party, said his organization sent out the mailer with the picture of Soos in the wheelbarrow after he heard about plans for a city-paid flier supporting the changes.

Wojtaszek, who is also a former North Tonawanda city attorney, said he strongly opposes the proposal to make the attorney position a mayoral appointee.

"It's something that the voters should have a say in," he said.

Controversy surrounding the proposed charter changes swelled last year when members of the charter committee wanted the proposals on the ballot at that time.

But the Niagara County Board of Elections ruled that paperwork filed about 20 minutes before the deadline by City Clerk Thomas M. Jaccarino was improperly formatted.

At the time, Jaccarino said he assumed that what the committee had submitted was in the proper form.

City Attorney Shawn M. Nickerson, who received a request to review the submission from the mayor's office but didn't respond until five days after the Board of Election's deadline, said the committee was responsible for making sure the ballot proposals were in the proper form.

Ultimately, the issue is up to the voters to decide, Soos said.

"If they're not good ideas, let the voters turn it down," he said. "I will be disappointed, but that's what it's all about."

Sommer agreed.

"I hope people look past a lot of the rhetoric and look at what these votes mean," he said.


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