LOCKPORT – The Republican legislator who moved to block the renomination of Niagara County’s Democratic elections commissioner last week said after a closed-door meeting Tuesday that the issues may have been resolved.
But Legislator Paul B. Wojtaszek, R-North Tonawanda, wouldn’t say for sure that Commissioner Nancy L. Smith would be confirmed at the next Legislature meeting Tuesday.
“If [the Democrats] reintroduce it, we’ll have to make a decision,” Wojtaszek said after a 50-minute closed-door session between lawmakers and Smith.
Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, said he didn’t know what would happen because he hadn’t yet consulted with any of his colleagues.
“We’ll consult with our County Attorney’s Office. This may be something that’s laid to rest,” Wojtaszek said after the meeting.
In a party-line vote, the GOP majority of the Legislature tabled Smith’s reappointment Nov. 20, as Wojtaszek said he wanted answers on two key issues at Tuesday’s meeting of the Administration Committee. State law allows them to block the appointment for no more than 30 days; after that, the Democrats alone may confirm Smith.
Tuesday, Wojtaszek said he was satisfied with the explanations about why the county’s online election returns were so slow on election night. A new computerized reporting system crashed under the strain of having many polling sites reporting simultaneously.
“It’s fixed right now,” County Information Technology Director Larry L. Helwig told the legislators.
Tuesday’s closed session dealt with the Oct. 2 firing of former North Tonawanda Mayor Lawrence V. Soos from a part-time job as a Democratic clerk for the Board of Elections.
The firing came the day after Soos spoke out against Nicholas J. Forster’s successful candidacy for y Democratic chairman at the party reorganizational meeting.
Soos filed a notice of claim against the county, a mandatory preliminary to a lawsuit, after he was denied unemployment benefits. The state Labor Department said that it did so because of Soos’ conduct at the Democratic Party meeting.
“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.
Republicans said they wondered if that meant unethical conduct had occurred in pressuring Soos to attend the meeting.
But Wojtaszek said Tuesday that the problem “could have been the ultimate interpretation of what happened by the Department of Labor.” He said a misinterpretation was possible.
Information about firings is supposed to flow from the department head to County Human Resources Director Peter P. Lopes. Both Smith and Lopes declined to comment after Tuesday’s meeting, citing Soos’ threat to sue.
Last week, Smith said in an interview, “I know better than to ask somebody to attend a meeting. … I wouldn’t have told Larry to go to that meeting because we weren’t supporting the same person for chairman.”
Meanwhile, Soos said he had a hearing Monday on his claim for jobless benefits.
Soos said Lopes was expected to attend but didn’t show up. He said the hearing officer told him to expect a decision in about a week.