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Training urged for staff after sex harassment suit cost Niagara County $335,000

Last year, Niagara County paid former Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth R. Donatello $335,000 to settle a federal lawsuit that claimed her boss harassed her and other female prosecutors with unwelcome remarks about their "weight, hair style and breast size."

Michael J. Violante resigned in March 2016 as district attorney, as The Buffalo News learned that other members of his staff had filed complaints against him.

Now the chairman of the Niagara County Legislature wants to institute a training program for county employees to prevent sexual harassment in the future.

W. Keith McNall, R-Lockport, made the recommendation during his annual State of the County address Tuesday night.

Niagara County Legislature Chairman W. Keith McNall gives his State of the County address Jan. 17, 2017. (From Niagara County Public Information Office)

He directed Human Resources Director Peter P. Lopes to move forward on a training program.

"Lawsuits do happen, and no defense can protect us from suits where we are, in fact, culpable," McNall said. "Given the wide-ranging challenges impacting the broader culture, and the need to ensure our employees are all treated with dignity and respect, I would challenge Mr. Lopes to development and implement – soon – training to address these pressing issues of employee conduct.

"Our employees deserve to come to a safe work environment. As government leaders, it is our responsibility to ensure our department heads and our staffs react appropriately to concerns raised about employee conduct."

County Attorney Claude A. Joerg said he is unaware of any new harassment cases arising since the Donatello matter was settled.

McNall also called for county officials to provide as much assistance as possible from the county Water District to help the Niagara Falls Water Board handle its infrastructure problems.

The Angelo DelSignore Civic Building, a county-owned court building in downtown Niagara Falls, has been among the sites affected by low water pressure from broken mains.

McNall's speech noted that the Water District already is planning to update two interconnections between the county and city water systems.

"Given that the water issues in Niagara Falls have now impacted our county government buildings in the City of Niagara Falls, assisting the Niagara Falls Water Board must be a priority," McNall said.

McNall asked the Water District to present a plan by this spring.

The chairman also encouraged Jonathan F. Schultz, the county's emergency management director, to continue with plans for faster response if there is another round of flooding and erosion along the Lake Ontario shore this year.

McNall renewed the county's call for President Trump to replace all the American members of the International Joint Commission, blamed by some local residents for allegedly helping to cause the 2017 flooding through what McNall called "the disastrous Plan 2014," a controversial water-level management policy for Lake Ontario.

McNall also endorsed a proposal to spend $6 million on an energy-efficiency program in all county-owned buildings, as long as the projects produce enough savings to offset the cost.

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