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Lawsuits approved on three issues

The Amherst town attorney's office has found a novel way to raise revenue in these tough economic times. It's suing for it.

At this week's Town Board meeting, Town Attorney E. Thomas Jones received approval to pursue legal action against two companies that failed to live up to contractual agreements with the town.

The board also agreed to pursue a malpractice claim against its own outside counsel for its role in the firing of former sewage-treatment plant superintendent Anthony R. Canna.

The Canna case cost the town a stunning $1.2 million, according to town officials. Kenmore-based lawyer Paul D. Weiss was the lead attorney representing the town in the matter.

It involved Canna's operation of the sewage treatment plant's costly pelletizer system, which is supposed to turn sewage into fertilizer but never fully met expectations.

Canna was an early critic of the pelletizer system but was ultimately fired for what town officials considered failures on his part to do what was necessary to make the system work.

He was suspended in 2001, then fired on grounds of incompetence and misconduct in 2003, based on findings from a hearing officer. But Canna successfully sued for his job back because the Town Board failed to properly appoint the hearing officer in the case.

That reinstatement equated to about a half-million-dollar loss to the town in fees associated with the two-year disciplinary hearing, said Council Member Daniel Ward, who has been a defender of Canna's actions.

The town was forced to conduct a second hearing, which ran from 2004 to 2005. The board fired Canna again in 2006.

Over the years, Ward has repeatedly pushed a resolution to take legal action against the town's outside counsel.

His most recent resolution in June was referred to the town attorney's office. Jones responded with a board resolution to retain Bouvier Partnership on a contingency basis. The firm already handles some of the town's personal injury cases.

Among other legal actions authorized by the board:

A breach of contract suit against WeCare Organics, a nonhazardous-waste removal company based in the Town of Jordan. The company submitted a bid in 2006 to haul away town sludge and pellets. It was awarded a three-year contract as the low bidder for the service but then refused to do the work, Jones said.

The town subsequently gave the work to Allied Waste Services, the next-lowest bidder. Now that three years have passed, the town plans to sue for the difference between the town's actual costs and the costs it could have had if WeCare Organics had done the work, Jones said. That amount is currently about $185,000, he said.

A breach of contract suit against Siemens Building Technologies, which sold the town a generator in 2005 that was supposed to run partially on gas byproduct created by the town's sewage treatment plant, Jones said. The generator runs on natural gas but never used gas produced by the sewage plant.

Siemens is now under contract to do other work for the town, Jones said, so the two sides may negotiate a settlement.


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