LOCKPORT – In a surprise move, the Niagara County Legislature’s Republican majority blocked Nancy L. Smith’s reappointment as the county’s Democratic elections commissioner this week.
The Republicans can’t do so indefinitely – after 30 days of inaction, the Democratic legislators alone can fill the post – but the move angered the Democrats.
“This has never happened in the 22 years I’ve been here,” said Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D- Niagara Falls.
It was the first time since 2001, when the GOP lawmakers balked at supporting their own party’s nominee, that an elections commissioner candidate didn’t win the support of the full Legislature.
Smith’s nomination for a seventh two-year term was tabled on a party- line vote of the Legislature, where there is a 12-3 GOP edge.
Legislator Paul B. Wojtaszek, R-North Tonawanda, said he wants the Legislature to investigate Smith’s firing of former North Tonawanda Mayor Lawrence V. Soos as a part-time elections clerk the day after Soos spoke against the election of new Democratic Party Chairman Nicholas J. Forster at an Oct. 1 party meeting.
Wojtaszek also said he wants to hear about the Board of Elections’ failure to deliver timely online results on election night, a situation blamed on the crash of a new computer system designed in part by county Information Technology Director Larry L. Helwig, a Republican.
Legislature Administration Committee Chairman W. Keith McNall, R-Lockport, said his committee will question Smith and her GOP counterpart, Mary Ann L. Casamento, at its next meeting on Tuesday.
But Forster and Smith pointed out that both commissioners were at a Nov. 13 meeting of McNall’s committee, and no one brought up either the Soos or election night issues.
“The Republicans’ forum to make a grandstand would have been the [Nov. 13] Administration meeting. They failed to do it,” Forster said.
Wojtaszek said Smith’s renomination wasn’t submitted by the Democrats until Monday of this week, after being tabled at the Oct. 1 party meeting.
“[Forster] had some concerns himself about her fitness,” Wojtaszek charged.
“The Dirty Dozen (the 12 GOP legislators) aren’t going to control who the Democratic election commissioner is going to be,” Forster said. “I think they’re drunk with authority.”
On Oct. 31, Soos filed a notice of claim, a preliminary step required if one is planning to sue a government, after he was denied unemployment benefits.
Wojtaszek said the state Labor Department’s reason for the denial might be a tip-off to an ethical violation. It said that Soos was told to be at the Democratic Party meeting as a county employee but was not to engage in personal attacks.
“Although you were entitled to express your own opinions, you were there as a county employee. Your actions were detrimental to your employer’s interest and constituted misconduct,” the Labor Department wrote.
Soos confirmed Smith didn’t tell him to go to the Democratic meeting. As for the Labor Department ruling, Soos said, he has a hearing Monday.
“I don’t know what [Smith] told them,” he said.