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Former Lockport youth and recreation chief files complaint against city

LOCKPORT – The city’s former youth and recreation director, whose job was abolished last June while she was out on workers’ compensation leave with a back injury, has filed a complaint against the city with the state Division of Human Rights.

Melissa I. Junke filed the complaint Jan. 22, according to a note on Wednesday’s Common Council agenda. The aldermen discussed the matter in closed session last week, The Buffalo News learned.

However, the grounds for the complaint are not being disclosed at this time. The city’s attorney said the state’s open government expert told him the document is not yet subject to the state Freedom of Information Law.

Junke was hurt when she fell on an icy sidewalk outside her Altro Park office in January 2014.

Her ouster came after she was the focus of a City Hall investigation over alleged misuse of a credit card controlled by then-Mayor Michael W. Tucker.

Junke, who is Tucker’s cousin, used the card for expenses connected with a golf tournament in June 2013, organized by Junke’s brother Brian Junke, owner of Lock 34 Bar & Grille.

Junke used the credit card for more than $9,000 worth of expenses connected with the tournament, primarily flying in six former pro football players to attend it.

Brian D. Doyle, a Hamburg lawyer hired to do the investigation, reported that Tucker had placed Junke’s department off limits to financial review by City Treasurer Michael E. White. Doyle delivered his final report months late because of health problems and never billed the city for it, Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano said at a recent Council meeting.

Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey, when she was Council president in early February 2014, announced an investigation of misuse of city credit cards. The Buffalo News reported that Junke was the target.

Her attorney, George V.C. Muscato, filed a notice of claim against the city May 1, asserting that the leak, which was confirmed in an on-the-record interview with White, the city treasurer, defamed her and violated her privacy rights. No lawsuit has been filed, and Junke faces a deadline of early May to do so.

Muscato said he does not represent Junke on the Division of Human Rights claim. Buffalo attorney Lindy Korn, who does, declined comment on the substance of the complaint.

“Melissa is a courageous plaintiff, and I’m proud to represent her,” Korn said. Junke did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Ottaviano rejected a request from The News for a copy of the complaint, saying that Robert J. Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, told him it’s not subject to the Freedom of Information Law unless or until the division finds probable cause to investigate. “Until then, it’s just an unfounded allegation,” Ottaviano said.

Freeman confirmed that a release of the document now would be “an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

He said, “I believe the city would have the authority to deny access, at least for a time.”

A spokeswoman for the Division of Human Rights, Lourdes Centeno, said the division never releases complaints.

Wednesday, the Council voted to let the Salvation Army’s Lockport chapter use Junke’s former headquarters in Altro Park for one of its youth programs, called “Bridging the Gap,” which was forced out of the Salvation Army building by a construction project.

The Council also approved a six-month contract with Joseph Cassenti, the city’s information technology consultant, at a rate ranging from $50 to $70 per hour. The expense is capped at $20,000. McCaffrey said Cassenti has worked for the city since the Tucker administration and responds to complaints ranging from email malfunctions to software problems.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com