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Hamburg councilman's claim over attorney's term dismissed

A judge has dismissed a claim by a Hamburg town councilman questioning the procedure that led to a change in the term for the town attorney.

Councilmen Joseph Collins and Jonathan Gorman voted against a resolution last Dec. 13 that changed the start of the new term for the town attorney from Jan. 1, 2011 to Jan. 1, 2012.

Collins challenged the action by filing for an Article 78 hearing in State Supreme Court. He said the legal opinion that the change was necessary should not have been given by Town Attorney Kenneth J. Farrell, because Farrell stood to gain from the decision of the board.

Justice John M. Curran dismissed the case.

Critics had questioned the politics of the measure, given the complexion of the Town Board, which changed from a 3-2 Republican majority last year to a 2-2 Republican-Democratic tie this year.

The resolution passed, 3-2. If it had not, the reappointment for the town attorney, deputy town attorney and town prosecutor would have come up at this year's reorganization meeting Jan. 1.

But the reappointment may not have gained the necessary three votes, because Collins and Gorman, Democrats who have questioned some of the attorneys' opinions, would have been expected to vote against the reappointments.

Supervisor Steven J. Walters defended the change in the term, which he said brought it into compliance with state law, which requires the term to start Jan. 1 after each biennial town election. In a long-standing practice, the two-year appointments had been made the opposite year.

"The law is clear as to what the term should be. The town was not compliant with what that law said," Walters said.

Collins, who has been at odds with the Republican supervisor and GOP board members, said he will challenge the actions of the board again if he believes they are illegal.

"I just want to show them I'm going to go to the courts every time you do something questionable," Collins said.

Both Collins and Walters agree that if the appointment for town attorney had been stalled by a 2-2 vote this year, Farrell would remain as town attorney because the law provides for the attorney to carry over in such a circumstance.

"What was political in all this, was Councilman Collins demanding to get his way," Walters said. "This is the same councilman who frequently criticizes the legal department for having to incur costs for litigation."

Collins has another case making its way through State Supreme Court, challenging his censure by the Republican majority of the Town Board.

e-mail: bobrien@buffnews.com

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