LOCKPORT – Leaders of the Niagara County Legislature’s 12-member Republican majority issued a statement Monday declaring that they will continue to vote against Nancy L. Smith’s renomination as Democratic elections commissioner.
Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, said they won’t have the chance, because Democrats have decided to simply let the 30-day time limit for Legislature action on Smith expire. After that, the Democratic legislators alone are allowed to confirm Smith.
County Democratic Chairman Nicholas J. Forster said the Republicans are trying to distract attention from the property tax increase in the tentative 2013 county budget, the subject of a public hearing at 6 p.m. today in the County Courthouse.
The GOP statement, issued by the county Public Information Office, attacked Smith for allegedly lying about why former North Tonawanda Mayor Lawrence V. Soos was fired Oct. 2 from a part-time job with the Board of Elections.
“Now the Republican supermajority, the ‘Dirty Dozen,’ think they can dictate who the Democratic election commissioner will be. It’ll be a cold day in hell before that happens,” Forster said. “This is a distraction and a deflection from the Republican mismanagement of the county. [Today] is a big day for them. They’re telling the people of the county they’re going to raise taxes 3.5 percent.”
Soos filed a notice of claim to prepare to sue the county after the state Labor Department denied his application for unemployment benefits. The Labor Department, apparently quoting from a form submitted by the county Human Resources Department, accused Soos of violating orders through his conduct at the Democratic Party reorganizational meeting Oct. 1.
Soos spoke out against Forster’s candidacy for chairman at that meeting and was fired the next day. The Labor Department finding said Soos was instructed to attend the meeting as a county employee but was told not to indulge in personal attacks.
Soos said Monday night that a Labor Department hearing officer reversed the decision and granted his jobless benefits last week. The county did not send anyone to the hearing to contest the matter, he said.
The Legislature’s Administration Committee questioned Smith about the ethics of the issue behind closed doors last week. Afterward, Legislator Paul J. Wojtaszek, R-North Tonawanda, said Smith’s responses might have put the issue to rest.
But Monday’s statement made clear that the 12 GOP and allied legislators aren’t backing down.
“I wanted to give Nancy Smith the benefit of the doubt in this matter,” Wojtaszek said in the statement. “At the [Administration Committee] hearing, she stated that her decision to terminate Mr. Soos was in no way influenced by his actions at the Democratic Party organizational meeting. However, a subsequent review of her signed statement on file at Human Resources revealed the explanation she offered at the Administration Committee hearing was diametrically opposed to her earlier written statements. In one instance or the other, Mrs. Smith was not truthful.”
He and Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, did not return calls Monday evening, nor did Smith.