Cheektowaga residents came out in force Tuesday night to voice their disgust over the appointment of one former councilman to an $83,000 town post – and the refusal of a seated trustee to step down following a felony arrest.
It was the first meeting of the Cheektowaga Town Board since the appointment of Charles Markel as deputy highway superintendent, a post that pays $83,000 per year.
Markel's first day on the job was Monday. The former six-year councilman was forced out of office in 2014 after admitting he unlawfully collected unemployment benefits.
It was the second meeting since Councilman James P. Rogowski's arrest on a felony charge in an alleged domestic violence incident.
In the public comment portions of the meeting, a dozen residents came forward to speak out. Applause from the near-capacity audience followed each of the comments.
The Rev. Richard J. Maisano said Rogowski is a distraction.
"Your recent personal issues have become a distraction," Maisano said. "But I would ask, until your personal issues are put to bed, that you would take a leave of absence from the board and get your life straightened out."
Rogowski, 45, sat in his council seat looking down at paperwork before him. He was charged last month with a felony, after allegedly violating an order of protection obtained by his wife.
The menacing charge was filed by West Seneca Police after Rogowski was accused of chasing after his wife in a vehicle, while she was also driving a vehicle.
A court appearance scheduled for Rogowski Tuesday at 5 p.m. – the same time as the Town Board's work session – was pushed to 10:15 a.m. Monday in Erie County Integrated Domestic Violence Court.
Earlier in the meeting, Town Supervisor Diane Benczkowski defended Markel, citing his 20 years of business experience as a co-owner and operator of a convenience store and gas station and his six years on the Town Board.
"If you try and destroy a person for one mistake they made in their life, at least make a decision based on the last 15 years," said Benczkowski, reading from a prepared statement.
"In the last 39 months he has worked for the Erie County Water Authority and proved himself a productive member of society," she said.
James Kaminski castigated board members for Markel's appointment. The decision was made by Highway Superintendent Mark Wegner.
"I've almost lost faith in living in this town," said Kaminski. "I'd be appalled if I were a town employee, especially one working in highway for 20 or 30 years. Why didn't they take a foreman and make him a deputy?"
Markel in 2014 admitted that he was unlawfully collecting unemployment benefits while also collecting a paycheck for serving as a councilman. He pleaded guilty to second-degree offering a false instrument for filing, a misdemeanor.
Former Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita at the time stated that due to Markel’s plea to a crime involving moral turpitude, his position as councilman was automatically vacated under the law.
Markel made full restitution at the time of his guilty plea in the amount of $7,136. He was sentenced to a one-year conditional discharge.