LOCKPORT – Refuse Disposal District Director Richard P. Pope is being investigated because of alleged violations of the county’s policies on residency and use of county vehicles, Niagara County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz disclosed Wednesday.
The revelation came after Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, issued a statement disavowing Glatz’s declaration to a Buffalo News reporter Tuesday night that the charges against Pope are “none of your business.”
Updegrove said in a telephone interview, “Transparency is a priority. [Glatz] works for the public as well as for the Legislature. That’s the message that has been delivered.”
“It was a poor choice of words at an inappropriate time,” Glatz said Wednesday. He said he was trying to protect Pope’s rights. “Put yourself in his shoes,” Glatz said. But the manager promised, “When the facts have come together, I’m going to issue a full report.”
The county requires all employees to live in Niagara County, although the Legislature can grant waivers from that requirement. Pope, who has headed the Refuse District since 1993, is registered to vote at a home on East Avenue in Lockport. A woman who answered the phone there Wednesday said Pope wasn’t there and she would give him a message.
Pope had a county vehicle assigned to him. The county’s vehicle use policy, last updated in 2009, bars use of county vehicles for any private purpose or by people who are not county employees. He was placed on paid administrative leave Nov. 1 from his $67,681-a-year job.
Legislators were told in an executive session Tuesday that some of them might have to sit in judgment of Pope in a potential Article 75 hearing, a trial-like proceeding required in order to fire someone who has civil service protection. Pope is not a member of any county labor union.
Updegrove’s statement said Glatz’s comments to The News “were completely unacceptable and inconsistent with the Legislature’s majority’s long-standing commitment to a philosophy of government that places a premium on transparency and openness. While Director Pope is certainly entitled to due process, any investigation of allegations against Mr. Pope will be conducted in a manner that is transparent, open, and fair – both to Mr. Pope and to the taxpayers he, and we, work for.
“Several allegations have been made regarding Mr. Pope’s exercise of his fiduciary responsibilities as Refuse District director. The Legislature will seek answers on Mr. Pope’s conduct and performance, and we will not do so behind closed doors. While Mr. Pope does have rights under civil service law, the public has a right to expect transparent oversight of agencies they fund with their tax dollars.”
Glatz said Tuesday that the allegations against Pope were not anonymous and came to him before he and Pope clashed over the future of the Refuse District’s only active landfill at an Oct. 22 district board meeting.
The landfill is running out of space, although how long it can last is a subject of controversy. Pope argued that the landfill makes a profit that could be used for as long as four years to pay monitoring costs at two closed landfills.