TOWN OF NIAGARA – The Town Board voted Tuesday to limit the amount of legal advice town employees and elected officials could get from the town attorney in relation to subpoenas connected to a probe into town practices by the FBI and the State Attorney General’s Office.
By a 3-0 vote with Supervisor Steven Richards abstaining, the board restricted the type of legal advice that can be given by the town attorney to any union nor non-union employee as well as elected officials who are subpoenaed in connection with the investigation.
The probe reportedly involves the use of town equipment, materials and work crews on private property.
Some 20 town employees and officials, including Police Chief James Suitor, reportedly were given subpoenas recently to testify before the grand jury.
Following about 30 minutes of debate, the board, on the advice of Town Attorney Michael Risman, said employees and personnel could go to Risman for direction on how to comply with a subpoena and the subpoena process as “an initial consultation” but could not seek personal legal advice from him.
The town would not pay for any such advice, and Risman would tell the person to seek private consul, according to the resolution.
Councilman Charles Teixeira, who sponsored the motion, said the town taxpayers should not be responsible for the cost of legal representation of employees or officials unless the town was named in the suit. He said all those personally involved should have to pay for their own lawyers.
Risman said it would not be unusual for an employee to seek his advice in such matters, but he would have to draw the line, just as if he were asked about a mortgage or divorce.
“I should not be giving out personal advice … I’m the attorney for the town,” he told the board. “What I tell them is to fully comply with the subpoena [and how to follow the process] and to tell the truth.”
Councilman Marc Carpenter said union employees may be eligible to be represented by lawyers from their union.
Teixeira and Carpenter also attempted to get a legal opinion on whether employees called to testify should be paid by the town for the time they spend in front of the grand jury. Risman advised that question should be addressed at another time.
Deputy Supervisor Danny Sklarski disagreed with Carpenter, Teixeira and Councilman Robert Clark and said they were throwing town employees “under the bus.”
“If people are being subpoenaed during town working hours on town time … we have the responsibility to protect our people,” Sklarski said.
In another matter, Sklarski and Richards were outvoted on a measure to spend about $228,700 in funding from the State Power Authority agreement on dugouts for eight town baseball diamonds.
Sklarski criticized opponents of the expenditure, saying the construction would not have cost the town “one penny.”
Carpenter accused Sklarski of turning the issue into a “political football” and said the issue was “not the dugouts but the cost.” He noted that the original price tag discussed during board work sessions was $72,000.