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Editorial: The public pays for West Seneca code officers' misconduct

The new expression around West Seneca must be, “How do I get fired from a job like that?”

For the second time in 10 years, a town code enforcement officer has been relieved of his duties in lieu of facing disciplinary charges. John Gullo is the latest holder of the office to step aside, and he got a $25,000 payment plus a health care plan as parting gifts. Nice work if you can get it.

Gullo worked for the town for more than 30 years and was said to be well-respected. It turned out, however, that he had made renovations on his house without getting a building permit. And which town official oversees building permits? You guessed it.

He officially retired July 21, according to the town. He had been put on unpaid administrative leave May 4 as a result of the disciplinary charges.

In addition to the lump-sum payment of $25,000, Gullo was given the least expensive single health coverage plan offered by the town until he turns 65. He is now 53.

Are there people in every town who try to skip the permit process when making a home improvement? Of course. But most aren’t the official in charge of the permits.

It may be, as Gullo’s lawyer maintains, that political opponents went after Gullo. But if there was someone looking for a political scalp, he made it too easy for them by not following the regulations he was paid to enforce.

The town’s previous code enforcement officer, William P. Czuprynski, was accused of profiting off his office and running it like a personal fiefdom. Czuprynski, according to Buffalo News reports from 2009, was alleged to be shaking down people who applied for building permits, insisting on drawing up their building plans for them and then charging them for his efforts.

Czuprynski, then 63, stepped down from his office in exchange for the town dropping civil service charges against him. He was to receive a town pension; the figures were not made public.

The Czuprynski case is old news, and unrelated to Gullo’s actions as code officer. But there’s a disturbing pattern here. Two code enforcement officers being cast aside for misconduct within 10 years is too many.

Removing a town official is not as simple as firing someone in the public sector. Civil service protections can make it a difficult and costly process.

The Town Board "determined that a settlement agreement was its best option," a statement from the town said. “This settlement avoids significant legal costs for the disciplinary hearing and related legal services.”

The board needs to keep a short leash on the office of code enforcement. If the officer becomes corrupt or just negligent, the taxpayers get shortchanged by his job performance, and ultimately have to pick up the tab to make the person go away.

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