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Editorial: They're nuts in Niagara County

Second chances are important in life. So is the virtue of remorse. They go hand in hand – but not at the level that some Niagara County legislators think. Those people are nuts.

Legislators voted 8-5 this week to give a prominent county job to a recently minted felon, one whose crime was defrauding the public, no less. Today, Kevin C. Schuler is Niagara County’s new public information officer. Last year, the former vice president of the now defunct LPCiminelli construction company pleaded guilty to federal charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. This was no petty crime.

He and two other company executives had been charged with paying bribes to a state consultant who made sure that LPCiminelli would win the contract to build the $750 million RiverBend plant, the most significant component of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion economic development program. The bribery charge against Schuler was dropped and he was sentenced to two years of supervised release and 400 hours of community service.

And today, he is the public face of Niagara County because, as the Majority Leader Randy R. Bradt said, he was “the most qualified candidate.” It’s just fortunate for Schuler that there were no applicants with better felonies.

No one should begrudge Schuler the chance to rebuild his life. In the end, he came clean: He pleaded guilty, cooperated with prosecutors and testified against his former boss. He surely is the kind of man who deserves a second chance.

And he does have government experience. He is a past chairman of the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency board and of the committee that drew new Legislature district borders in 2011. Under normal circumstances, that background would count for a lot.

But these circumstances are anything but normal, and the Legislature’s action smacks of a fix. Not only has it moved to hire a felon whose crimes hurt the public, it is lavishing him with an 11% raise. The patronage post will pay him $79,003 a year, almost $8,000 more than the post has paid since it was created 11 years ago.

Not that he should have been hired for this post at any price, but here’s a question: Why wouldn’t the county pay $8,000 less to a felon looking to redeem himself? He may deserve a second chance after his criminality, but not a reward because of it. He hasn’t earned this opportunity – not yet and maybe not ever. Contrary to a popular cliché, forgiving doesn’t always mean forgetting. Who is behind this craziness?

There is no justifying the Legislature’s vote to hire Schuler as the head of any county agency, let alone one in which he will represent the entire county in public. It needs to rethink this decision.

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