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Weinstein chides Democrats in Amherst for cleaning house in town attorney’s office

The two remaining Republicans members of the Amherst Town Board took the new Democratic majority to task Monday for cleaning house in the town attorney’s office.

Longtime Town Attorney Thomas E. Jones and his three-member staff are out as the Democrats had enough votes to start fresh.

However, Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein, a Republican who is now a minority on the board, insisted town taxpayers would pay the price for not retaining at least one of the former members in the town attorney’s office.

“My estimate of the cost of this transition for Amherst taxpayers, I’d say it’s $100,000,” said Weinstein, during the board’s annual reorganization meeting, without being more specific about how he arrived at that figure.

“I have spoken to attorneys in the field who think that it’s really poor judgment ... to replace four attorneys at the same time,” Weinstein added. “Even with the best attorneys coming on board, you still lose that historical perspective and you lose experience as to what has gone on before.”

Town officials had known for some time after the results of last November’s Town Board election that the incoming Democratic majority was prepared to make changes in the town attorney’s office. Asked by The Buffalo News a week ago if he was surprised about impending changes in the town attorney’s office, Jones said he was not.

“As you know, town government changes every two years ... and every time town government changes, there are certain statutory positions that are up for appointment, and the town attorney is one of them,” said Jones, who had served in the town attorney’s office since 1996, and as town attorney since 2002.

“I’m a Republican and, when I was a deputy, I did survive one time when the Democrats had taken over, but they’re entitled to choose who they want as their attorneys,” Jones said of the Town Board majority.

“So I survived about 10 changes, which is good. I’m really proud of what I’ve accomplished,” he added.

Members of the Democratic majority said Monday they had offered Jones an opportunity to serve as a consultant to the town attorney’s office for up to a year, but he declined.

“He expressed to me that he was at a point in his life where he was ready to retire,” Councilwoman Ramona D. Popowich told board members Monday.

“We did sort of suggest to him that he could stay on for another year as a consultant and he decided to go in a different direction.”

In the interim, one of the three former deputy town attorneys under Jones, Patrick Kelly, agreed to remain on board for another two months to help with the transition, according to Popowich.

Weinstein also questioned the process by which the Democrats selected their replacement, noting that the Democrats’ interviews with candidates were not conducted through the town’s personnel department as the supervisor said he had done for his previous appointments.