A raucous meeting last week of Buffalo police union members upset over past PBA spending practices ended in the resignation of a longtime treasurer and the tabling of a resolution to oust the union’s president.
The actions were in direct response to a union-sponsored audit that cited lavish and unaccounted for spending by the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association during the leadership of the past president, Robert P. Meegan Jr. The audit reported union officers attending out-of-town conferences, questionable bills for liquor, expensive lunches and charges on a union credit card by Meegan.
Roughly 200 members turned out for what was described as a marathon, five-hour meeting Thursday in the Old First Ward. Word among PBA members spread quickly that federal subpoenas had also been issued to the union, demanding its financial records.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. told The Buffalo News it is the policy of his office to neither confirm nor deny whether there is an investigation.
Buffalo Police Inspector William Misztal, who has served for decades with the union, resigned after he was given an ultimatum to either resign or face a vote that likely would have removed him, members of the union said.
“Don’t force us to do this,” a union member said to Misztal, according to someone who was present.
The desire to remove him as union treasurer was brought on by concern over his “methodology of implementing sound financial practices” governing the spending of union dues, union members said.
After Misztal resigned, the union adopted a resolution thanking him for his “40-plus years of service to the membership.” Misztal conducted himself in a dignified manner and “walked out of the meeting holding his head up,” the member said.
The News called Misztal and left a message seeking comment but received no response.
PBA President James Panus also was under attack during the meeting at the Bison City Rod and Gun Club on Ohio Street because he served as a union officer during the leadership of Meegan. Meegan, who served 24 years as president, retired 15 months ago from the union and as a lieutenant from police force.
After receiving legal advice from PBA labor attorney W. James Schwann, union members tabled the resolution to remove Panus as president.
Panus, currently in his first two-year term as president and before that the union’s recording secretary, is in the middle of an arbitration that seeks a police contract settlement for the period of 2007-2009.
He declined to comment on the tabled resolution but said he remains dedicated to seeking an equitable settlement for police officers.
“I’m going to do my best to get the officers a good contract,” Panus said, following an arbitration session Friday.
“Members felt it would not be in the best interest of the PBA and so we allowed for a 30-day tabling of the resolution to remove him,” a PBA member said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Late last month, an audit of the PBA’s books for 2010 and 2011 raised concerns over $56,000 in credit card charges by Meegan that included trips to conferences, airline tickets to those out-of-town meetings for himself and a guest, and, among other expenses, meals while he was at his home in Florida.
He had told auditors at the Buffalo firm of Freed Maxick, which was hired by the PBA, that his work as union president was a “24-hour, 7-day-a-week,” job. Meegan later told The News that he had authorization from the union to use the credit card when carrying out union business.
Expensive lunches for the union’s board of directors and their guests were also questioned, as were liquor bills for holiday parties.
Many of the auditors’ recommendations for a more thorough system of checks and balances, Panus has said, were put into place prior to the completion of the audit.
PBA members said they took no pleasure in the actions at Thursday’s meeting, but felt they had no alternative.
“Many of us described it as one of the darkest days in the PBA’s history, but the integrity of the organization is in question at this point and some of the members feel it’s too much of a distraction,” said the PBA member who requested anonymity.
It was also noted that for years Misztal and Meegan fought hard to improve the lot of police officers through tough negotiations and arbitrations.
The PBA represents about 750 officers and supervisors.
Commending union members for their actions Thursday was Larry J. Baehre, who served as union president prior to Meegan’s tenure.
“It had to be difficult for the union delegates to take these historic actions, but it was necessary to preserve the integrity and image of the union, whose members go out everyday to defend the community in an often thankless job,” said Baehre, who retired as a lieutenant a decade ago.