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Amherst's assistant engineer fired again over residency Town Board votes in unison to negate court reinstatement

Amherst's assistant town engineer, who was fired and then rehired, has once again been fired-this time by the entire Town Board.

The board unanimously approved a resolution Monday stating that James I. Johnson "failed to provide adequate documentation to demonstrate that he is a resident of the Town of Amherst" and therefore is not in compliance with the town's residency requirements.

The board discussed the matter earlier in the day in a closed session and made no public comments during the regular board meeting. Johnson was present at the evening meeting but declined to comment on the board decision.

The 13-year town employee was fired as assistant town engineer by Supervisor Satish B. Mohan last April on the grounds that Johnson was not a resident of the town, a requirement for the position. The town has maintained that Johnson actually lives in the Village of Elba with the rest of his family, not actually at an Amherst apartment address, as Johnson contends.

However, State Supreme Court Justice Timothy J. Drury ruled in December that Johnson was improperly fired and was owed reinstatement to his job as well as back pay, benefits and interest.

While the town made a credible case that Johnson might have violated the town's residency requirements, Drury stated, Mohan did not have the legal authority to unilaterally fire Johnson without the Town Board's consent. Johnson was reinstated Feb. 2 to his $84,845 position.

Monday, the board terminated Johnson "effective immediately."

In other business, the board:

*Approved a resolution by Council Member Mark A. Manna to create a "Redevelopment Summit" that would bring together the town's Planning Department and the Amherst Industrial Development Agency to identify and resolve obstacles to redeveloping older parts of town.

"Redevelopment is our future," Manna said during the board's work session. "We don't have a lot of green space left to build on."

The resolution was unanimously supported, though Council Member Shelly Schratz said similar past proposals to redevelop the Eggertsville and Snyder communities have been slow to result in change.

*Approved a resolution by Manna to spend any federal economic-stimulus money the town receives only on American products or services wherever possible.

*Approved a resolution by Council Member Guy R. Marlette to provide a more prominent link on the town's Web site to allow town residents to anonymously report cases of town government fraud and abuse.

The new link expected to be up by sometime next week.

*Gave the green light to design and bid out an extension of Lyndhurst Road between Harding and Ferndale roads to make it easier for residents who live in the neighborhood bounded by Main Street, Transit Road and Wehrle Drive to access main roads.

*Failed, in a 3-3 tie vote, to approve an amended resolution by Schratz to have the town request bids for a consultant that could recommend the consolidation and merger of some town departments as a cost-saving measure.

Council Members Schratz, Mohan and Barry A. Weinstein voted in favor of the amended resolution; Daniel J. Ward, Manna and Marlette voted against.

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