About 20 members of the Depew Police Benevolent Association walked out of a Friday meeting with the mayor to protest her plan to appoint a veteran Buffalo police officer to lead the village department.
The news that Mayor Barbara A. Alberti and village trustees passed over Depew officers in favor of Capt. Albert J. Liberatore also has fueled an election-season push for change by a new political party backed by some former and current village employees.
Yet, toward the end of what was by some accounts a dramatic evening, a retired Depew officer who had been considering a run for mayor as a member of the year-old Preservation Party said he has a deep respect for Liberatore.
"He's going to be the best thing that's hit this police department in the last 16 years," said Steve Hoffman, a former lieutenant. "I've known him for the last 20 years."
Liberatore was expected to be appointed Depew's interim police chief when the Village Board meets Monday. Buffalo police officials who asked not to be identified said Liberatore was prepared to accept the post and take a year's leave of absence from the Buffalo force.
Alberti, who had declined to reveal Liberatore's name Friday, did say that she was impressed by her candidate's credentials and experience, which include 28 years of police service, bachelor's and master's degrees and teaching experience at a local college.
Alberti defended the proposed appointment, saying he is a good leader.
"They've wanted leadership," she said of the department. "People sometimes don't like when you hire the most qualified."
The department lost its last chief, Thomas Domino, in July, when he notified the board by letter that he was retiring. After he left, Capt. Stanley Carwile temporarily assumed chief duties.
The handling of the proposed Liberatore appointment drew criticism.
"We have well-qualified officers over there that I don't believe were given a chance," said Nick Sherwood, chairman of the Preservation Party. "That's just a slap in the face to the police force that we have."
Sherwood said he was in the hallway of the municipal building as the meeting unfolded Friday. "The president of PBA stood up and read a prepared statement of discontent and they all got up and walked out," he said. "I thought it was a great show of unity."
He said his party has recruited several candidates in anticipation of the March 15 village elections.
"If we're successful, it'll be a total sweep," he said. "When I was on the board, my philosophy was logical and fair."
Sherwood said people collecting signatures for party election petitions due in February include Hoffman, who may run for mayor. Trustee candidates considering a run for office are Jules Pecora, corrections officer and former Planning Board member; Mike Nolder, a systems administrator for Wilson Farms and former math teacher at St. Mary's High School in Lancaster; and Jesse Nikonowicz, president of Depew Fire Company and Fire Department treasurer.