County Executive Chris Collins fired a former Democratic county lawmaker because he was politically "toxic" and "too hot to handle," according to a federal lawsuit filed by the lawmaker.
Collins, a Republican, is accused of targeting Gregory B. Olma in 2007 as retaliation for Olma's support of Collins' Democratic opponents. At the time, Olma was a county grants administrator.
Collins' lawyer countered Friday by suggesting the federal complaint is the latest in a series of lawsuits by Olma, an outspoken Democrat who served four terms on the county legislature.
"Based on Mr. Olma's history of litigation, I'm skeptical," County Attorney Jeremy A. Colby, said of the numerous allegations in the suit.
Olma declined to comment, except to say, "I think the court papers speak for themselves."
His lawsuit seeks $900,000 in damages over his lost job and includes a series of allegations against Collins.
Chief among them is a 2007 email that Personnel Commissioner John W. Greenan allegedly sent to Christopher Grant, a political adviser to Collins who later became his chief of staff.
Greenan, according to court papers, told Grant that he planned to tell Olma's boss that he should "move forward as if there will be no intent to keep Greg."
Grant also is accused of telling another targeted worker, a prominent Republican and Collins ally, that they "were going to do what we had to do to get rid of Olma, but we will protect you."
Olma's suit also makes reference to a January 2008 meeting between Collins and County Legislator Thomas Mazur, a Cheektowaga Democrat and longtime Olma friend, at which Collins allegedly referred to Olma as politically "toxic."
"When Collins first became county executive, I met with him and spoke to him about Olma," Mazur confirmed this week. "It's no secret that Olma's been my friend for many, many years."
Mazur would not elaborate on what he and Collins spoke about, but a source close to him said he was trying to save Olma's job.
That same month, the Collins administration began the process of eliminating Olma's job and cited a loss of grant funding.
Collins' recommendation was later approved by the County Legislature, a fact U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara wanted clarified on Friday.
"What was the composition of the Legislature?" Arcara asked Colby.
"The majority of the Legislature was Democrat," Colby answered.
"Why was the position eliminated?" Arcara asked.
"There was a change in the grant," Colby said.
Olma's lawyer, James Ostrowski of Buffalo, declined to comment after Friday's court proceeding, which focused on the county's motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
Colby said the request is based on the fact that the elimination of Olma's position was authorized by the Legislature and what he called "legislative immunity," a legal defense that also applies to executives such as Collins.
He declined to comment on the various allegations made by Olma but questioned his credibility given his history of filing lawsuits.