A juicy soap opera is unfolding in Lancaster.
At its root is a nasty town election brouhaha sparked by Russell W. Sugg, a Republican village trustee, who is in a showdown against Dawn C. Gaczewski, a Democrat and the village’s special events coordinator. They both are running in a four-way race for two seats on the Town Council.
The dirty laundry was spilled at a committee meeting last month when Sugg fired jabs at Gaczewski over a late fundraising payment to the Trinity Food Pantry a year ago and signs that her advertising company made for a village park.
But what he really was questioning: Gaczewski lives with another village trustee: William C. Schroeder.
Gaczewski is an independent contractor with the village in her special events role and not a village employee. And Schroeder voted to approve Gaczewski’s contract three times. He also is the head of the committee that oversees the village’s special events-related business.
“You live with Dawn,” Sugg said to Schroeder during a committee meeting in late September. “This is a conflict of interest ... I think somebody else should review the (special events) bids. This is a conflict of interest. I think reviewing the bids and voting on vouchers is a conflict of interest.”
Schroeder, who heads the special events committee, was quick to respond.
“How? I’m getting nothing out of it,” he responded.
Afterward, in an interview, Gaczewski said:
“It’s very sad that town election issues have been brought to the village floor, which is a waste of taxpayer dollars ... I have thick skin.”
The committee meeting Sept. 22 was supposed to be about the village’s Christmasville light show. But at the last minute, Sugg asked the committee to put discussions of the village special events coordinator position on the agenda.
Sugg demanded at the meeting: “Dawn, do you have a relationship with Bill?”
Gaczewski: “Sure. We’re friends.”
Schroeder: “What are you getting out of this?”
Sugg: “I want a better, more transparent government.”
Gaczewski and Schroeder are both divorced. She rents him a room in her home.
“Are we boyfriend, girlfriend? Sure. We go through life together,” Gaczewski said during a later interview.
Sugg added that Gaczewski called him on his speaker phone at one point to say she was marrying Schroeder, which she denies, calling it an “outright lie.”
She said Sugg actually called her, asking about their relationship, while he was on his speaker phone.
“Why would I call you just to say we’re getting married?” Gaczewski told Sugg during the September committee meeting before the Village Board.
Schroeder jumped in.
“You know Russ, you keep this up, you’re going to give dirty politics a bad name,” he told Sugg.
Village Attorney Arthur Herdzik said he did not believe Gaczewski violated any ethical standard of conduct.
One Village Board member questioned Sugg’s motives in attacking Gaczewski.
“I’m all for transparency. I’m not for stirring up things when you like,” Village Trustee Dawn Robinson told Sugg during the recent committee go-around. “We all understand you’re running against Dawn [Gaczewski] for a public office. If you want to pay for a smear campaign, do it outside these chambers.”
Sugg insists his questioning of Gaczewski has nothing to do with the election.
“This is not political,” he told The Buffalo News in an interview.
Sugg said he wants the village’s ethics policy, put in place under former Mayor William Cansdale, to be re-evaluated.
In addition to questions about his opponent’s relationship to a fellow board member, Sugg criticized Gaczewski – the owner of Adworks, a Central Avenue T-shirt, advertising and sign business – for a nine-month delay in paying the Trinity Food Pantry money from a 2014 race. He also attacked her for signs her company was hired to make for the village’s Veteran’s Park, which it did before the Village Board approved the contract.
“I want a better, more transparent government,” Sugg said. “I think someone else should chair the events (committee). You either work for the village or bid on jobs.”
To be sure, Sugg, who has a year and a half left in his term with the Village Board, voted twice to approve Gaczewski’s contract – the first time right after he took office in 2013 and then again earlier this year. He was absent for the second time her post came up for a vote. She is under contract with the village through spring 2018.
Also in the last week, Sugg has backed off from his criticism of his opponent and said he won’t bring it up until after the November election.
For her part, Gaczewski said there has never been any impropriety in her work for the village.
“I’ve improved the events series tremendously,” she said.
Gaczewski has initiated a new online voucher system that allows for Village Hall to make more timely payments to vendors.
“Your new system, whether it works or not, we’ll see. It’s in its infancy,” Sugg said during the recent committee work session, noting that he hopes it doesn’t take nine months to pay a food pantry. “This reflects poorly on the village.”
Gaczewski stressed that she takes her job seriously and answers any complaints.
“I want residents happy,” she said.
She also insisted she has no problem with her printing company no longer doing any more business with the village. “From this point forward, Russ, if it makes you happy, I don’t mind (turning) back on village business,” she said.