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Hamburg Town Board moves to terminate police chief’s contract

HAMBURG — Two weeks after a packed house at the Hamburg Town Hall, the Hamburg Town Board convened for its bimonthly meeting on Jan. 27 with another large audience, this time to discuss the termination of Police Chief Michael Williams’s contract.

Due to the stir this resolution caused at the last meeting, the board voted in favor of tabling it. When Supervisor Steven Walters moved to table the resolution yet again, neither Councilwoman Cheryl Potter-Juda nor Councilman Michael Quinn seconded the motion. Therefore, the resolution moved to a vote, but not before multiple individuals expressed their disapproval.

“I think this sets a bad precedent,” Walters said. “If this board felt that there were some terms and conditions with the chief’s contract, I think we had an opportunity to do the right thing: to sit down and meet with the chief and discuss those issues that were of concern to the new town board. This sends the wrong message to employees of the town, particularly employees who have – for a long time – served this town faithfully and diligently, and so I am opposed to the resolution.”

Despite the fact that many present individuals voiced opposition to the termination of the contract – including the supervisor – the two board members voted in favor of the resolution.

With the combined support of Potter-Juda and Quinn, Williams’ contract was disaffirmed and terminated, effective immediately. The resolution read that “it is our intent to continue to employ Chief Williams as the Hamburg chief of police, following the current terms of the terminated contract, while the terms of a new contract are negotiated and approved by a majority of the town board.”

Williams will retain his $126,000 annual salary, but he still expressed his displeasure with the arrangement.

“I find it rather appalling that the members of the board who are willing to cancel my contract and renegotiate it, since the last meeting, still haven’t reached out to talk to me, to ask me to sit down, to want to talk about things, like a lady and a gentleman,” he said. “I find that very, very, very difficult for people that are supposed to be professionals. Actually, I find it appalling.”

“I have nothing personally against Chief Williams,” Quinn said. “I think he’s doing a fine job. I just believe that the precedent has already been set by case law as to these professional service contracts, and it was the will of the people to bring this contract into question, as being the highest paid chief of police in the county.”

“We have a great police department,” Potter-Juda said, adding, “We’d like to continue to have the police department grow. We also are doing what we were elected to do, by trying to save this town money and by looking at a few of the departments, starting with, No. 1, the police department and the chief of police being the highest paid chief of police in all of Erie County. That was one of our reasonings.”

Amherst Police Chief John Askey, president of the Erie County Chiefs of Police Association, was in attendance and said he deemed the Hamburg Police Department as “one of the most professional police departments in all of Erie County and within the state.” He added, “We’re proud to call them our partners. Chief Williams is one of the most professional chiefs that we’ve had the honor of working with.”

Once the resolution passed in favor of terminating the contract, many citizens in attendance filed for the exits, expressing their dissatisfaction. One individual said, “I don’t even want to be in the same room as these people.”

In other board matters:

– Bret McCabe was hired as a town police officer. The decision is pending a psychological exam, physical, drug test and polygraph. McCabe was present at the meeting and was greeted by the board.

– Former Councilwoman Amy Ziegler was replaced on the board of the Hamburg Industrial Development Agency by Quinn. Ziegler, who was in attendance, said, “My understanding [was] that that resolution was tabled for the purposes of having a discussion over the appropriateness of this board removing me from a separate and distinct IDA board. I’ve never been invited to the table to have a discussion.”

Town Attorney Walter Rooth confirmed that the board does have the authority to replace people and appoint individuals to these boards; Walters opposed the resolution, but it carried.

– After several “late” resolutions were not listed on the agenda – including the decision to remove from the table the resolution regarding Williams – Ziegler said, “This business of late resolutions does a tremendous disservice to this community, because people who may be interested look at the agenda and don’t see it, so they may not come.”

Walters responded, “Late resolutions are supposed to be resolutions that, for one reason or another, couldn’t get to the town clerk prior to the Thursday-at-noon deadline and have some level of pressing importance that they need to get moved on the next immediate agenda, as opposed to waiting for the further one, and I certainly don’t claim that I’m not guilty of that, as well. I think all three of us need to make sure that we’re doing the best job we can, to get those resolutions in on time.”

– The appointment of Evan Casey to the town’s safety committee, another source of discussion during the Jan. 13 meeting, was withdrawn. Quinn cited “liability issues” that resulted in Casey’s not being a town employee as the reason for the change of mind.

The next Hamburg Town Board meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Feb. 10.

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