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Democrats seek to block Updegrove candidacy for Niagara County manager

LOCKPORT – With rumors being heard throughout Niagara County government that former Legislature Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove is a leading candidate to become the next county manager, Democrats will introduce a measure at Tuesday’s Legislature meeting that would make Updegrove ineligible for the job until 2018.

Meanwhile, responding to what they say is a public demand for more transparent government, the Republican chairman and majority leader of the Legislature will introduce a resolution Tuesday that would create a county Office of Public Integrity.

Updegrove, a Republican, did not run for re-election to his Town of Lockport legislature seat in 2015. A partner in the Buffalo law firm of Spadafora & Verrastro, he said at the time that increased legal duties led to his decision.

But there has been talk behind the scenes for at least two years that Updegrove, who served eight years as majority leader, had his eye on the manager seat. Jeffrey M. Glatz has resigned that post, effective March 31.

“We heard that over a year ago, even prior to him announcing he wasn’t running for re-election. It didn’t take us by surprise,” said Legislator Jason A. Zona, D-Niagara Falls.

“For a year and a half, I sat by Rick. I consider him a friend. He never mentioned county manager to me,” said Majority Leader Randy R. Bradt, R-North Tonawanda. “He would be no more considered than any other qualified person.”

Zona and the other three Democrats will offer an amendment to the county code of ethics that would ban any legislator from taking a county job until he’s been out of office for two years.

Asked if the Updegrove rumors were the reason for the proposed ban, Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso laughed and said, “Not really. I just figured it would be unethical for a legislator to create a job for himself, not run and get the job.”

The measure also would impose a two-year ban on any ex-legislator lobbying the Legislature on any issue. Virtuoso said there are similar bans on the state and federal levels.

Chairman W. Keith McNall, R-Lockport, said, “I don’t know why you would punish or hold back legislators from applying for county work. That doesn’t make sense to me.”

Updegrove did not return a call seeking comment Friday. The county will run advertisements in local newspapers starting next week, seeking applicants for manager, with a Feb. 3 application deadline and a salary range of $115,000 to $130,000 a year for a four-year term.

The Office of Public Integrity, whose creation is sponsored by McNall and Bradt, would be an independent investigative authority, according to the resolution. The director would be appointed by the Legislature, and the measure would create a search committee that also would establish a budget and a salary for the director. He would have subpoena power and could recommend, but not impose, penalties.

Virtuoso said he thinks it’s all unnecessary. “We have an attorney general, district attorney, U.S. attorney, FBI, a lot of places you could go to have a complaint filed,” he said. “It probably would be a big salary. It probably would have to be someone with a legal background.”

“I think the public is clamoring for checks and balances, transparency,” Bradt said.

“Another Republican must need a job,” Zona said. “It’s another patronage job. It never stops.”

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com