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Niagara County to hire new grant writing firm after $340,000 failure

LOCKPORT – Niagara County is hiring a new grant writing firm after the last company’s poor work was blamed for the Sheriff’s Office losing out on a $340,000 federal grant to buy body cameras for officers.

A County Legislature committee has voted to hire Clifton Communications, a newly created firm headed by Bridget Corcoran of Hamburg.

Until two years ago, she worked for Four Points Communications, a grant writing firm that had worked for the county since 2012.

In the wake of Corcoran’s departure, the quality of Four Points’ work product seems to have declined. Asked if the county was dissatisfied with the company’s performance, County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz said, “Oh, yeah.”

He said the county issued a new request for proposals for grant firms, and three were interviewed. Glatz told the Legislature’s Administration Committee that when Corcoran turned up, her track record led them to recommend a three-year contract for Clifton Communications at $72,000 a year, starting March 1. The full Legislature is to vote on the deal Feb. 23.

“She’s going to bring back the talent that was lost,” said Legislator David E. Godfrey, R-Wilson.

Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, said O’Connell & Associates, a former grants writer for the company, bid only $66,000. Glatz said the O’Connell firm was only going to write 10 grants, while Clifton committed to applying for at least 12.

Chief Deputy Michael P. Dunn said the body camera grant was offered last year by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance. The Sheriff’s Office and some other police agencies in the county already have a few cameras for patrol officers to wear on their uniforms to record interactions with citizens and suspects.

The grant would have helped to buy 203 such cameras to expand their use by the Sheriff’s Office and all city and town police agencies in Niagara County, Dunn said. But the application was rejected. The county asked the federal officials why, and Dunn said they responded that the problem was with the writing in the application.

“They didn’t make a very clear statement of what the problem was that we were trying to solve,” Dunn said. “They said overall, it was poorly written.”

Glatz said that after Corcoran left Four Points, its work was taken over by Melinda I. Boesken. Legislature Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, said Boesken was the legal secretary to Henry F. Wojtaszek, former county Republican Party chairman. The Buffalo News confirmed that information.

Virtuoso said he wants an investigation by the State Comptroller’s Office of why Four Points had the grant writing job at all. The Legislature never voted on it. “Something here smells,” Virtuoso said.

Glatz said when Four Points was first hired in 2012, its fee was $48,000 a year. He said county policy allows hiring of professional services worth up to $50,000 without a Legislature vote. But Virtuoso produced a letter, signed by Boesken, asking for an increase to $72,000 for 2015. The letter was signed for the county by Glatz, then-Legislature Chairman William L. Ross and County Attorney Claude A. Joerg.

Virtuoso said the Legislature should have voted on a resolution to ratify the contract, since the price was now over $50,000. Glatz conceded last week, “There probably should have been a resolution.”