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Mohan loses appeal bid on hiring of police But case prompts plan to change town code

Supervisor Satish Mohan has lost his latest attempt to appeal a court decision that favors the Amherst police union and carries broad ramifications for the structure of Amherst town government.

Last week, the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in Rochester denied Mohan permission to appeal his case against the Amherst Police Club to the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court.

The case dates to 2006, when Mohan initially defied a Town Board resolution to hire three new police officers. Though Mohan later filled the vacancies, he held fast to the position that town law gives him the sole authority to hire and fire employees.

That position led to a suit from the police union and support from other board members, who contended that state laws on town governance give the board, not the supervisor, hiring and firing authority.

Because of the split, two outside attorneys were hired to represent the board and supervisor, separately. Those lawyers have cost town taxpayers more than $56,000 since 2007, Comptroller Darlene A. Carroll said.

"It is a huge amount of money, but what should we do?" Mohan said. "Because of the money, should we just drop dead and keep quiet, that anybody can come and challenge our code and we should not protect it?"

He added that, in light of the Appellate Division's ruling, he has no further plans to litigate the case.

"I hope he's true to his word that this is the end, because it's cost the taxpayers a lot of money, and it did not need to be spent," responded Edward Guzdek, Amherst Police Club president.

Town Attorney E. Thomas Jones said Mohan's legal losses carry far-reaching implications.

Amherst overhauled its town code and governance structure in 1976. The key changes included a provision giving the supervisor primary authority over the day-to-day operations of town government and the authority to hire and fire town employees.

But courts recently have ruled that the town's laws did not supersede the state's laws on town governance because they weren't worded in a specific enough manner.

The victory for the Amherst Police Club basically undoes more than 30 years of local town law, Jones said.

"This could upset the entire balance of town government," he said.

Jones said his office is working to implement board resolutions that should rectify this. Changes in the town's administrative code likely would go to voters in a referendum in November.

Guzdek said Mohan's repeated attempts to appeal the lower court's ruling amount to a power play on his part.

"I think it goes back to the supervisor wants to be in charge and can't accept that he's one of seven on the Town Board, and there's a process to follow," he said.

Mohan responded that his actions, while costly, aren't personal.

"If our laws are challenged," he said, "we have to protect them."

e-mail: stan@buffnews.com

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