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Curiously absent Orchard Park police chief to retire

Orchard Park Police Chief Mark F. Pacholec had not been seen around the Municipal Center for about a month.

Town employees didn't know where he was, and town leaders were not saying much.

It turns out the chief was placed on paid administrative leave about three weeks ago, and Tuesday Town Supervisor Patrick Keem announced Pacholec will retire May 1.

Keem made the announcement about 12:10 p.m. in the board's meeting room, where the Town Board had hastily called a special meeting at noon to "discuss disciplinary issues" in the Police Department.

The meeting would not take place, Keem said after he and Councilman Michael Sherry sat down. "He has decided he will retire May 1," Keem said of Pacholec, who was not in attendance.

Andrew Fleming, the attorney for the police chief, objected to the characterization that the process was disciplinary in nature. "I’m not really sure what the root of this is," Fleming said. "My sense of it was he was really, really good at what he did. He may have ruffled feathers along the way."

He said the Town Board may have been trying to figure out a way to remove Pacholec if he did not leave on his own. "I don’t deny there are people in the town, on the board, who want to have him moved out, but they've been saying all along this isn't disciplinary in nature," Fleming said, adding it could be characterized as a change of heart with his leadership.

"At the end of the day, that’s really where everything was, that we wanted to go in a different direction," Town Attorney John Bailey said. “He’s leaving with the good graces of the Town Board and he will have a letter of recommendation going with him as well.”

Pacholec will be on paid administrative leave until he retires, Bailey said. He said the meeting was canceled because "we were able to settle the differences."

Bailey said the issue with the police chief did not concern his salary. Pacholec reportedly has not been seen in the municipal center for several weeks, and he has not attended recent Town Board meetings, raising questions about where he is. The board asked him to "take time away from the office," according to the supervisor.

"The Town Board and Chief Pacholec are currently working through some issues. While we do so, we have asked him to take time away from the office," Keem said in an email before Tuesday's scheduled meeting. "In Chief Pacholec’s absence Assistant Chief Wehrfritz is in command and hopefully we will have a resolution in the very near future."

Pacholec, 56, became the fifth police chief in Orchard Park when he was appointed in 2013, following the retirement of Andrew Benz. Joseph Wehrfritz was appointed assistant chief the same year. Pacholec joined the police department in 1997.

Late last year, the Town Board initiated a review of  police department pay, as it had done with other departments, and determined that Pacholec made more than police chiefs in similar communities.

Pacholec's pay last year was $151,208, according to Councilman Michael Sherry. The board wanted the salary to be "fair market value" compared to similar communities, where the average salary was $136,000, according to the board.

The board issued the report during a Dec. 12 work session, when Pacholec was on vacation with his family, and board members did not tell him of the conclusions before the meeting. The following week, several residents, including Pacholec's wife, spoke up for the chief. Bridget Pacholec chastised the board for not having the courtesy to tell him in advance, and she said he found out when a reporter called him. She told the board he had worked every day since he was appointed, including weekends and vacation time.

Keem told The Buffalo News last week that issues with Pacholec had nothing to do with his pay, and that the board had tabled the salary issue. He said the board would either keep the salary where it was, or lower it.

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