LOCKPORT – Brian D. Doyle, the attorney hired by the city to investigate the questionable use of a city credit card, said Tuesday that it would be up to Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey to decide whether to bring any disciplinary charges against the director of the Youth and Recreation Department.
Most of the details have been reported previously by The Buffalo News.
Doyle told the Common Council on Tuesday that former Mayor Michael W. Tucker gave the go-ahead to Youth and Recreation Director Melissa I. Junke to use Tucker’s city credit card to pay expenses for a golf tournament but didn’t authorize the specific expenses Junke incurred.
Doyle said Junke is entitled to a trial-like hearing if McCaffrey decides to bring any charges against her.
The city would also have to select someone to actually bring the charges. Doyle said he could be the one to do that if the city goes that route.
Doyle said the city has 18 months from the date of the alleged misuse of the card to bring charges. The golf tournament was held June 3.
It was sponsored by Lock 34 Bar & Grille, a restaurant owned by Junke’s brother, Brian Junke. Melissa Junke ran up $9,080 in credit card expenses for the tournament, most of it for airline tickets for minor sports celebrities.
Doyle said the lineup included three former pro football players, a golfer, two wives or girlfriends and two people whose backgrounds he hasn’t been able to determine.
“The former mayor authorized the use of the credit card but did not give explicit approval for all of the items purchased,” Doyle said.
Doyle said not all the bills Junke submitted were paid. The city refused to pay a limousine bill of “north of $2,000” for transporting the athletes because it wasn’t put on the credit card.
Alderman Kenneth M. Genewick, chairman of the Finance Committee, said the credit card misuse can’t recur because one of McCaffrey’s first decisions after taking office Feb. 21 was to cut up the city’s credit cards.
Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano said that in his opinion the entire idea of using a golf tournament to raise money to augment the Youth and Recreation Department budget was improper.
“Municipalities are not allowed to fundraise. That includes golf outings,” Ottaviano said. “The golf tournament in general appears to have been an improper event.”
But he said donations would be all right, and Junke’s attorney, George V.C. Muscato, said that although the tournament itself lost money, Junke collected $1,500 to $2,000 worth of donations at the tournament.
Muscato said Junke “obtained donations directly from people for the Lockport Youth Bureau.” Doyle said he could find no written evidence of such deposits. Tucker has said he authorized Junke to raise funds for her department, because he thought it had been underfunded by the Council.
Ottaviano said he had instructed McCaffrey not to answer questions or make statements about the case or her role as a possible decision-maker on discipline. She also would have the power to appoint a hearing officer if Junke is disciplined and seeks a hearing.
The gag order was ironic, since McCaffrey, as Council president, was the one who first asked for a probe of credit card use two months ago. But Ottaviano went so far as to request McCaffrey to leave the room as Doyle met with the aldermen in closed session for about an hour after he gave his oral report. There was no formal written report, Doyle said, although he used a text to make his presentation.
Muscato said Junke remains off the job on workers’ compensation because of injuries suffered in a fall on an icy sidewalk outside her office in January.
Muscato has threatened to file a notice of claim, a necessary legal preliminary to a lawsuit against the city, over the disclosure of Junke’s name. Asked Tuesday if that is going to happen, Muscato said, “We’ll talk about it.”
Muscato faces an early May deadline to file.
As for the cost of the investigation, Doyle, a Hamburg attorney who is being paid $200 an hour for his work, replied, “I haven’t had a chance to total that up yet.”