LOCKPORT – The Niagara USA Chamber issued a statement this week opposing Niagara County’s proposed renewal of the retainer for attorney Gary A. Abraham, who has been working for nine years to try to defeat expansion plans of CWM Chemical Services.
The Chamber’s memorandum to legislators included two disputed statements: that Abraham was hired by the environmental group Residents for Responsible Government and that the county’s purchasing policy requires a bidding process for multiyear professional services commitments, regardless of their cost.
Neither of those claims appears to be true, and Chamber officials later were backing off from those claims. Abraham works for the county and the Town of Lewiston, which have been sharing his retainer since 2005 with alternating appropriations of $50,000.
Legislature Vice Chairman Clyde L. Burmaster, whose Ransomville-based district includes CWM, said he called the Chamber to complain about the memo, which he called “a document full of lies.” And the purchasing guidelines, which the Legislature last revised in April 2011, do not address the issue of requiring a request for proposals for multiyear contracts, County Attorney Claude A. Joerg said. “RRG has its own attorney," RRG President April Fideli said. “He’s Nils Olsen from the University at Buffalo Law School. RRG has been in the forefront of trying to get [Abraham] back on the clock because it’s in everybody’s interest to have an attorney working on this full time.”
Kory Schuler, the Chamber’s government affairs director, acknowledged that Abraham was not hired by RRG, “though as evidenced by recent press accounts, RRG is heavily engaged with this attorney.” As for the bidding process, Schuler said the Chamber talked to county officials and received “contradictory information. This again highlights the need for better transparency in this and future transactions.”
The continuance of Abraham’s retainer was removed from the Oct. 15 County Legislature agenda after a caucus of the Republican majority. Abraham, after a canceled appearance last week before the full Legislature, is scheduled to address lawmakers at the Dec. 10 meeting of the Administration Committee.
Schuler said the business group was not taking a position for or against CWM’s expansion. However, he insisted that a request for proposals is needed, and even though the Legislature is allowed to waive the bidding rules for professional services, he said that the county has its own attorneys.
“I don’t have that expertise, and no one in my office has that expertise about environmental landfills,” Joerg said. “Only a very few attorneys do.”
Fideli said the Chamber isn’t a believable protector of the taxpayers, since its president, Deanna Brennen, serves on the board of the county Industrial Development Agency, which has presented “millions and millions of dollars in public giveaways to companies that did not create or retain jobs as a result of those subsidies.”