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Legislature debates appointment of election commissoner

BY: Rikki Cason | December 08, 2012

Both sides of the legislature took turns arguing at one another Tuesday, after Paul Wojtaszek, R-North Tonawanda, made accusations Democratic elections commissioner Nancy Smith “lied.”

Wojtaszek, who tabled Smith’s appointment at the Nov. 20 meeting, un-tabled the motion, stating why he would oppose it.

The tabling came after questions arose with the firing of Board of Elections clerk Lawrence Soos, the former mayor of North Tonawanda.

Soos was terminated Oct. 2, the day following an argument with Democratic Party Chairman Nick Forster at their re-organizational meeting.

In a closed administration committee meeting hearing, Wojtaszek said Smith was asked several times and continued to state Soos’ termination was not influenced by his actions at the Democratic Party re-organizational meeting.

He said after the hearing he wanted to give her the “benefit of the doubt” and he conducted an investigation into the matter. In a written statement to the county’s human resources director, Wojtaszek said her written reason for the firing contradicted what she told legislature members during the hearing.

“Our questions were fair and she lied,” said Wojtaszek. “She violated the public’s trust. Plain and simple, she lied to the committee.”

Minority Leader Dennis Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, spoke out against Wojtaszek’s allegations.

“That’s powerful words,” he said.

Majority Leader Richard Updegrove, R-Lockport, questioned before firing Soos why Smith did not contact the county manager or county attorney, but instead contacted Forster.

“It smells bad,” he said. “I don’t like it.”

Updegrove said this will cost the county money in pending litigation, unemployment and hiring a new replacement.

The minority chose not to make Smith’s nomination Tuesday. Next month, the members of the Democratic legislature body will approve her nomination alone.

In other county news:

• A resolution calling for support on expanding casino gaming in Niagara Falls could soon be brought to a vote.

A resolution was tabled Tuesday due to “sensitive” negotiations currently going on between the Seneca Nation and the state.

“The Senecas have ensured that our community bears the full weight of gambling’s social burdens while receiving none of the benefits,” said Kathryn Lance, R-Niagara Falls. “We want a more stable gaming system … and the jobs it creates.”

Niagara Falls is owed $60 million in unpaid casino profits from the Seneca Nation, who is withholding the money because they believe they have exclusivity and the state is pushing to legalize non-Indian casinos.

Updegrove said if Niagara County were to receive 25 percent of the slot revenue from the Seneca Nation, it would eliminate all county property taxes.

“This is one of the reasons a casino in Niagara County’s borders could be so important,” he said.

Virtuosa, who stated the Majority is not against a resolution in support of expanding casino gaming, said it is important to wait until the current dispute has been settled, which he believes is getting close.

Updegrove tabled the resolution stating, “This is something we believe in and want to see move forward.”

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