Police chiefs from throughout Erie County joined Hamburg residents Monday night in criticizing efforts by the Town Board to renegotiate the contract of Police Chief Michael K. Williams.
But it was the quavering yet strong voice of his mother who scolded the board for terminating the chief’s contract.
“Why are you going after him? Give me one reason why,” said Dolores R. Williams, the mother of one police chief and the widow of another. “Our town has always had a decent chief of police, and you two come along and you start it. What are you looking for?”
“You two” was referring to new board members Cheryl Potter-Juda and Michael P. Quinn Jr., who voted in favor of terminating the contract. Supervisor Steven J. Walters voted against it.
The chief will continue to receive his $126,000 salary and benefits, which include longevity, holiday pay and other compensation, while the two sides negotiate a new contract.
In 2011, the State Legislature deleted a provision of state law requiring police chiefs to receive certain automatic wage adjustments tied to any wage and benefit increases negotiated with the police unions. The issue came up several years ago in the Village of Hamburg, which renegotiated its contract with its chief. The chief challenged the matter in State Supreme Court, and the court ruled that a new Village Board could not be bound by the contract agreed to by a previous board.
Potter-Juda and Quinn said that they won election based on a platform of lowering taxes and that Williams is the highest-paid police chief in the county. “This is nothing personal against the chief. I think he’s a great guy,” Quinn said. “When we start to look for cuts, I look at the top.”
But many of those who packed Town Board Chambers felt differently.
Amherst Police Chief John C. Askey, president of the Erie County Chiefs of Police Association, praised Williams and the Hamburg Police Department as one of the most professional in the county and the state.
“Chiefs are leaving in droves, and you have to ask yourself, ‘Who in their right mind would take police chief’s job in this day and age without some type of protection?’ ” Askey said. “We’re not here to tell you how to run your town, but we’re concerned about our colleague, we’re concerned about our profession, and we’re hoping the Town of Hamburg stands by their Police Department and their chief in the tradition that you always have.”
The supervisor said the action sends the wrong message to other town workers, and the police chief said he was appalled at how the matter was handled. Williams said neither Potter-Juda nor Quinn has reached out to him to talk about the contract since it was first brought up at a board meeting two weeks ago.
“I took a choice to be a chief of police, to leave the union, to lead a Police Department and to represent not only the Police Department, but the town,” Williams said. “Is this the way I get thanked? I find it rather sad that this is the way the board would treat an employee of 34 years.”
Before acting on the chief’s contract, the board appointed a new police officer, Bret P. McCabe. McCabe had been a police officer in Alexandria, Va.