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Hastily called meeting sets hearing rules in police case; Assistant chief faces 2 disciplinary filings

A procedural vote on the rules for a disciplinary hearing involving a Hamburg assistant police chief came during an unusual, hastily called emergency meeting of the Town Board on Thursday.

The hearing had already started when board members voted, 2-1, to adopt the rules on how the hearing would be conducted.

Police Chief Michael K. Williams filed charges against Assistant Chief Stephen E. Mikac in June and September last year.

Rules for the hearing were established by the board last July 18 during an executive session, but that was before additional charges were placed.

Town Supervisor Steven J. Walters said after the board's special meeting that it was his "understanding" that rules of the hearing were established and that exhibits were marked during the Thursday morning session of the hearing. The supervisor did not attend the hearing.

He said Mikac's attorney was asked to stipulate that the rules adopted in July would also apply to the charges filed in September, and he did not.

"The choice was either to cancel the hearing today, postpone the hearing, or see if we could cobble together an emergency meeting of the Town Board simply to reaffirm the rules of the hearing that were already adopted by the board," Walters said.

A decision was made to hold an emergency meeting, and the town clerk and news media were informed of the meeting on an "urgent matter" less than an hour before it was to start at 12:30 p.m.

Councilman Joseph A. Collins objected to the abruptly called meeting and said he was not given time to look at his file. He voted against the rules.

"I asked the Legal Department what this was about, and they wouldn't tell me. I haven't received any information about this," Collins said. "We can do this at a different time. It's not imperative that we do it today."

Town Attorney Kenneth J. Farrell said the board passed a similar resolution last July, and Collins voted for it. Councilwoman Amy J. Ziegler abstained during that July vote, but she and Walters voted in favor of the rules Thursday.

Walters said that the town's legal counsel thought the rules would have been applicable to both sets of charges but that the cautious approach would be to affirm the rules. If the board did not, it was possible the outcome of the hearing could be challenged, Walters said.

The chief has accused Mikac of violating rules, orders and regulations of the department in dealing with a female recruit, not telling the chief that the recruit felt she was being graded unfairly by field training officers, and being uncooperative with the internal investigation into the matter.

Mikac has recently filed a lawsuit against the town in U.S. District Court, contending that the charges against him were in retaliation for filing a sexual-harassment complaint against Ziegler.