Thursday night I was in bed, flipping through The Sun. I was astonished to see five pages of letters to the editor, most of which centered around the ongoing partisan problems in the Town of Hamburg. I was surprised to find a lengthy letter from Town Supervisor Steven Walters responding directly to all the criticism.
Editor, The Sun:
On Jan. 2, 2006, after winning an election and walking into town hall with the hopes of bringing new ideas and promise to the town in which I was raised, I was greeted by an office where every single record and working document from the previous administration had been removed. I guess I should have recognized that for what it was.
It all came to a stunning head last week on Monday, Jan. 8 at the most recent Hamburg Town Board meeting. The four entrenched politicians of the Town Board voted to abolish the position of deputy supervisor after my appointment of Tom Best Sr., and to remove me as liaison to the police department. That, coupled with a recently published letter in The Sun from Hamburg Democratic Chairman Vincent Sorrentino, should make it obvious to everyone of the politics at play. These events have compelled me to finally respond.
For the town board to state that the abolition of the deputy supervisorâ€™s position was anything but political is disingenuous at best; an outright lie at worst. This was political. The Town Boardâ€™s reasoning that this appointment would cause “legal quagmires, too many to name” is ludicrous.
Too many to name? Why couldnâ€™t the board even cite one single example? The reality is that this is nothing more than a red herring, as is Sorrentinoâ€™s statement that the Town Board was fully within their legal right to do this. Whether theyâ€™re able to abolish the post is beyond the point â€“ the question is should they have?
Sorrentino refuses to answer that question because he cannot. As Hamburg’s town supervisor, I am allowed by New York State law to appoint a deputy supervisor to assist in the governance of the town. I felt, and continue to feel, that what is needed desperately in this town is some fresh thinking and innovative approaches to management and spending. What is needed is a completely new approach as to how government is run.
So I selected a non-board member, which by law I am able to do, who has vast experience and an understanding regarding the issues in the town. But the board has insisted that I appoint one of them.
Thatâ€™s right. They said if they could not have the position, nobody could. So they did the only thing they know how to do â€“ maintain the inefficient status quo and eliminate the position.
This political posturing by the town board is typical. At a time when our area needs new thinking, knowing that the existing form of government is not working, these four obstructionists did everything in their power to keep the status quo that is driving business, children and opportunity away. These self-serving board members did what they always do; they take care of the special few and politically connected and treat the rest of us taxpayers with arrogant disdain.
To make matters worse, the Town Board has also removed the supervisorâ€™s ability to oversee the townâ€™s police department solely because I recognized tremendous inefficiencies and have been pressing to make changes.
And who requested my removal? The chief of police â€“ the very person whose administrative performance I have questioned.
The four Town Board members have made their feelings clear by their actions. They donâ€™t care about improving the performance of our police department. They only care about making life easy for their political friends. With his law enforcement background, perhaps this is the real reason Best was removed.
In reality, one would think that with there being a familial relationship between a board member and the police department, the board would be interested in shedding more light on the administration.
But it did not stop there. Two days later, Town Attorney Vincent Sorrentino took an abundance of liberties in his scathing diatribe about me because he is, before anything else, the chairman of the Town of Hamburg Democratic Committee. He was completely dishonest in his summary of the budget regarding the following:
â€¢ That I did not work with others has long been disproved.
â€¢ That the town boardâ€™s budget had a lower tax increase than my proposed budget has already been refuted by Finance Director Jim Spute.
To brazenly state that I disagreed with the townâ€™s auditors is completely false. I agreed, as I have in every statement I have ever made, that the townâ€™s savings accounts were within the recommended limits.
My objection to the Town Boardâ€™s spending policies was based on the gross amounts of savings used. I stated that the current savings were insufficient to satisfy the boardâ€™s spending habits. This, the auditors agreed with. This is why the “part town” fund in the Town Board’s budget reduced spending yet still had to raise taxes 20 percent.
Don’t take my word for it. The budget is on file in the Hamburg Public Library if you want to look at it.
Sorrentino knew all of this, but was hoping you did not. Is this serving the taxpayers?
Sorrentino wonders why Iâ€™m reluctant to work with him, but last March I asked him, in his role as town attorney, to research how the town could accomplish a service merger with the villages of Blasdell and Hamburg.
His response? “It canâ€™t be done.” Only after I made several phone calls to the New York State Comptrollerâ€™s office was I able to determine that it could be done. Still, Sorrentino has lobbied against the plan, even disputing the townâ€™s financial experts who have said this would save town taxpayersâ€™ money.
Then in November, after retiring, which enables him to collect his state pension, Sorrentino, with the complete assistance of the four board members, pushed through a resolution renaming himself town attorney, only this time as an independent contractor at over $62,000 a year.
When I had the nerve to question this, I was told by the board I was being â€œpolitical.â€ When I questioned his submitting a contract between himself and the town, I was scolded again for being â€œpolitical.â€
Itâ€™s not just impropriety that attorneys are required to avoid, it is the “appearance of impropriety” as well (take a look at Cannon Five of the New York State Attorney Ethical Rules).
Again, these are the people with whom I am supposedly failing to work. It was never my intention to air the â€œdirty laundryâ€ of the town because I truly felt I could work with the board to better Hamburg and correct the problems that are so apparent to the residents. At this past Mondayâ€™s meeting, the board showed this is not the case.
So this is why I am compelled to bring this information to light. This is your government, not the Town Boardâ€™s, or the self-serving politicos, and you have the right to know.
Steven J. Walters
Hamburg Town Supervisor
I was really sickened to read all of this. I actually couldn’t fall asleep for an hour. I’ve been suspect in the past that the Town Board has been acting with their own interests, not the townspeople, in mind. The issues of the Foit’s property and the spamilicious boycott of the town’s Mobil stations seemed largely political and not working towards making any significant accomplishment. Any doubts that I had have been eliminated with the events of the past few weeks.
What about this little tidbit of information – the town’s Attorney is also the town’s Democratic Chairman? I think Walters is right on by implying that there is an “appearance of impropriety” with the actions and words of Vincent Sorrentino. I would think that the simple fact that he holds both positions in the same town is enough to establish a conflict of interest.
As evidenced by the numerous letters in The Sun over the past two weeks, I think the Democrats on the Town Board are digging themselves into a hole. Let’s not forget that the last time around a long-standing Democratic Town Supervisor was replaced with a young, Republican newcomer, in an election that spelled doom for the Republican Party across the rest of Erie County. The petty bickering and underhanded movements by the Town Board will no doubt be tied to Democratic party come election time, and the voters won’t likely forget it.