LOCKPORT – After a partisan battle that saw the Democratic leader label the process “a sham,” the Niagara County Legislature’s search committee chose four candidates Monday to interview for county manager, while another committee shot down a proposal that would have prevented one of the leading candidates from getting the job.
The interviews will be held in closed sessions beginning at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 22 and Feb. 24 in the county Center for Economic Development in Wheatfield. The candidates, probably two on each night, will include former Legislature Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport; former Erie County Legislator and Amherst Supervisor Daniel J. Ward, a Democrat; former Wayne County Administrator Kim Park and Martin D. Murphy, former Oneonta city manager and Cortland County administrator.
The search committee will take its vote March 7, and the Legislature’s Administration Committee will vote the next night. A special meeting of the Legislature likely will be convened for a final vote.
County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz is resigning as of March 31, after slightly over five years on the job. The search committee of three legislators from each party went behind closed doors and was unable to agree on the number of interviews. The Republicans wanted three; the Democrats wanted five. Legislator Michael A. Hill, R-Hartland, then suggested a four-member panel as a nod toward “bipartisanship,” but the Democrats voted no. Legislature Chairman W. Keith McNall, R-Lockport, used his casting vote to pass the GOP motion.
“This should not be – and I’m sure it isn’t – about politics. It’s about finding the best candidate to replace Mr. Glatz,” McNall said. “Three, five – halfway is four.”
The Democrats wanted to interview Kenneth J. Vetter, chairman of the state-appointed Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority. At first, the Democrats were willing to include Updegrove, but dropped his name after finding no give on the GOP side, according to Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls. He called Monday’s meeting “a disaster” and the whole process “a sham.”
“You know it’s going to be Updegrove. It was a foregone conclusion six months ago,” Virtuoso said.
Meanwhile, the Administration Committee on Monday defeated an amendment to the county Code of Ethics that would have barred Updegrove, who left office at the end of 2015, from becoming manager. The proposal from the Democratic minority would have prevented any former legislator from being hired for a county job until having been out office for at least two years. It went down, 4-1, with Virtuoso casting the only vote for it.
“I agree with everything in it,” said Majority Leader Randy R. Bradt, R-North Tonawanda, but it soon turned out that he really didn’t. He tried to get Virtuoso to delete the hiring ban from the resolution, leaving in place only a two-year ban on lobbying the county. Virtuoso refused. “You removed the most important sentence,” he told Bradt.
Virtuoso said, “We heard rumors before he even got out that Updegrove wasn’t going to run (for re-election), and Jeff Glatz was going to be replaced. That’s not why I put this resolution in, but that’s one of the things that could happen.”