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Allegations of misconduct forwarded to county, state

Allegations of misconduct by the father and son who head the Town of Collins Highway Department have been forwarded to county and state authorities, while town leaders seek to have the father removed from elected office.

This week, the Collins Town Board voted to have the town attorney pursue, under the Public Officers Law, the removal of Highway Superintendent Francis "Joe" Gernatt Jr. for malfeasance in office. The vote was unanimous; Councilman David F. Tessmer was absent.

Town Attorney James A. Musacchio could not be reached to comment Wednesday.

"The Town Board has no authority to remove the highway superintendent from office," Town Supervisor Kenneth E. Martin said Wednesday. Further, the town must pay for the attorney who is representing him.

Allegations involving Gernatt's son, Nicholas, the deputy superintendent, could be pursued by the town under civil service law.

For the time being, both remain on the job.

The supervisor gave this background:

"Back in early 2007, some town residents came with issues about the Highway Department. As we got into it, more things kept popping up.

"In September 2007, we hired a special investigator to look into it for the town."

Last month, attorney Scott M. Lupiani, a former associate with the Hodgson Russ law firm, reported his findings to the Town Board.

A reporter for The Buffalo News briefly viewed the report, which noted, among other things:

*The highway superintendent may have received gifts from companies contracted by the department.

*Nicholas Gernatt falsified payroll records and submitted false time sheets.

*While on the job, Nicholas Gernatt conducted several hours of personal business per week.

*Both used supplies and money for personal reasons.

*On Sept. 4, 2007, the elder Gernatt said his son had the day off for personal business, but the time sheet showed he had worked 10 hours.

"I'm not going to talk about the specifics of what's in the report," Martin said, citing the possibility of additional investigations by other agencies.

Nicholas Gernatt, when reached Wednesday, said he was not able to comment on the matter, on advice of his attorney, because the investigation was ongoing. His father, Francis, could not be reached.

Copies of the report were forwarded to the offices of the Erie County district attorney and the New York State attorney general, Martin said. It could not be learned Wednesday whether either agency will pursue an investigation.

The elder Gernatt has been highway superintendent since 1991 and is up for re-election in November. His son has worked for the department for about 15 years, the town supervisor said.

e-mail: jhabuda@buffnews.com and hjones@buffnews.com

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