The Hamburg Town Board has been advised to release a secret settlement with a former assistant police chief only if a State Supreme Court judge orders its release.
Hamburg Councilman Joseph A. Collins said he disagrees with the opinion by the town’s outside legal counsel, adding that it appears self-serving to the counsel. He also said he has had difficulty getting a copy of the settlement.
It’s the same contract The Buffalo News is attempting to access. The News filed a Freedom of Information Law request for the document, which was denied by the town. The News is appealing the denial to the assistant town attorney.
The document should be accessible to the public, according to Robert J. Freeman, executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government. The town’s refusal to release the agreement “flies in the face of the government’s responsibility to be accountable,” he said.
The contract is between former Assistant Police Chief Stephen E. Mikac, a 25-year veteran of the Police Department, and the town.
Mikac was fighting several department charges in a hearing when the settlement was reached and he retired. He said he is prevented from releasing details of the settlement, and town Supervisor Steve Walters said there is a confidentiality clause in the agreement.
Collins said Town Board members had a limited time to review the agreement before they voted to approve the settlement in an executive session – a meeting closed to the public – June 25.
He requested a copy of the agreement in a letter to Town Attorney Kenneth Farrell.
“I am concerned that I do not know the terms of the settlement,” Collins wrote to Farrell July 30.
He said he had received no reply by Thursday.
Collins maintains that as a board member, he is entitled to a copy of the agreement, or the opportunity to review the town file that contains the agreement.
And Farrell agrees.
“Fine, he’s a board member. He can look at it,” Farrell told The News.
He said he saw Collins’ letter “a couple days ago,” and left two messages for him. He disagreed with Collins’ assertion in a letter to the Town Board that his request had been ignored.
“Because I didn’t respond in a day or two? He wants instantaneous response?” Farrell said.
Farrell said there would not be copies of the settlement distributed to the board, but board members could make an appointment to come to the town attorney’s office and look at the document.
“I do want to see what we actually agreed to and what the dollars are going to come down to,” Collins said.