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Longtime Wheatfield town attorney retires

WHEATFIELD – Robert J. O’Toole, who has been Wheatfield town attorney for 24 years, doubling as human resources director for the past eight years, has announced his retirement from the posts, effective June 29.

O’Toole, 63, said he is not giving up the practice of law, however. He said is starting a new firm with Buffalo attorney Heidi Jones, primarily to handle matters involving small businesses, corporations and not-for-profit organizations. Jones & O’Toole will be headquartered on Franklin Street in Buffalo, but O’Toole also will maintain a Wheatfield office.

He said in a letter to the Town Board that his son Bryan is interested in becoming a lawyer, and O’Toole said he wants time to mentor his son.

In his resignation letter, dated May 28, O’Toole recommended that Matthew E. Brooks be chosen to succeed him as town attorney. Brooks moved last year from Lockport to Wheatfield. He continues to serve as a deputy corporation counsel in the City of Lockport and holds a part-time position as an assistant attorney in the Niagara County Social Services Department.

However, Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe said that while Brooks is under consideration for the post, there are other possibilities.

O’Toole said he was earning about $94,000 a year in his dual job for the town.

He offered to keep working on some unfinished town legal business for free. His letter mentioned some assessment challenges and the town’s new lawsuit against the North Tonawanda Little League over unreimbursed damage to the town Youth Center gymnasium in an incident in early 2014.

In another legal matter Monday, a proposed electronic sign law got a rough ride from speakers at a public hearing and was withdrawn for revision.

The law attempts to limit the brightness of electronic signs, with different levels for daytime and nighttime, and said any such sign outside a residential or commercial zone would have to be turned off at 9 p.m. Several speakers said that might harm businesses that stay open late, although the electronic signs would be allowed in commercial and industrial zones.

The law also would ban any type of moving display on an electronic sign and said that the image could not change more often than once every 10 seconds.

Ron Krul, commander of the American Legion post on Ward Road, said the post just spent $22,000 on an electronic signboard. “If we turn it off at 9, people will think we’re closed,” Krul said.

O’Toole said the purpose of the proposed law was to avoid distracting drivers. Councilman Gilbert G. Doucet said he had numerous complaint calls from residents near a restaurant whose bright sign kept them up all night.

The state and federal transportation departments have guidelines limiting the brightness of signs, O’Toole said. “It’s also a matter of public safety,” he said.