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Depew fuss shows WNY's inbred nature

Take an unhealthy fear of change, mix in the mistaken belief that the world owes you something, stir in just enough power to be dangerous. Bring to a boil.

Now you have the recipe for so much of what is wrong with Western New York.

We may not have needed to see another example, but we have in the last month in Depew.

The village needed a new police chief and found a worthy candidate in Buffalo Police Capt. Albert Liberatore. A member of the Buffalo Police Department for 28 years, he rose through the ranks to become a captain last year. He has a master's degree and has taught criminal justice at Buffalo State College.

Liberatore had sent a letter and resume to Depew Mayor Barbara Alberti two years ago, but she didn't do anything with it because she didn't need a chief at the time. But when Chief Thomas Domino decided to retire, Liberatore read about it in the paper and got back in touch with Alberti.

Alberti said she and village trustees were "blown away" by Liberatore's experience and credentials.

"We decided right away that this is what we were looking for," she said last week. "We knew they needed change in the Police Department. They wanted change."

Except it turns out that some in the department didn't want this much change.

Members of the department's rank and file were incensed that village leaders were looking for an "outsider" to lead them. (An "outsider" being a generic term we use around here to describe someone who isn't "one of us.") During a meeting with the mayor last month, about 20 members of the union representing Depew officers walked out to protest the choice of Liberatore.

Why? Because by naming someone from outside Depew, the village was blocking the promotion not only of the person who could be chief, but others below him who also could be promoted.

There is a sense of entitlement in that idea that is beyond troubling. Just because you hope to one day be chief of your police department -- or CEO of your company or editor of your newspaper -- does not, and should not, mean that you therefore must. And it should never stop an organization from hiring the best possible candidate. But as we have seen time and again, things work a little differently in the public sector.

Alberti and the Village Board appointed Liberatore, anyway. He was on the job for 10 days when he abruptly resigned, saying he wanted to "give these guys what they want" and went back to his job in Buffalo.

Nick Sherwood, the head of the Preservation Party, which hopes to run a candidate to unseat Alberti as mayor in the election next month, was in the hallway when the officers walked out on her. He initially called it a "great show of unity."

Asked Friday to comment on what happened with Liberatore, he refused, saying only: "Our Preservation Party and the people in this election coming up, we have nothing to do with the chief and/or the upcoming chief, until after the election, obviously, if we're successful."

Meanwhile, some police officers who were against hiring Liberatore liked what they saw from him in less than two weeks and have told Alberti that they feel bad that he left.

"You know what my answer is?" she said. "It's too late now."

The Village Board has now been backed into a corner and will likely be forced to do what the mayor was resisting: hiring from within, and perhaps giving up the chance to make any real change.

In Western New York, that's business as usual and a well-used recipe for more of the same.

e-mail: bandriatch@buffnews.com

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