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April 24, 2013 - 6:20pm
posted by Billie Owens in batavia, Darien, corfu, east pembroke, CSX railroad.

Some railroads crossings of the CSX line in Genesee County will be temporarily closed this evening in portions of the Town of Batavia, Darien, Corfu and East Pembroke.

Railroad crossings will be closed to all traffic on Wortendyke, Upton, Wilkinson and Colby roads, and Ellinwood Avenue, and possibly at other locations along that rail route.

The closure is expected to last until approximately midnight.

April 22, 2013 - 11:41pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in corfu.

Mayor Ralph Peterson is taking over supervision of the Corfu Police Department with the resignation today of Police Administrator Jim Meier.

In a resignation letter read to the village board this evening, Meier cited what he called "numerous attacks" leveled at him by Peterson and Officer Gene Nati as the reason for his resignation.

He said the attacks began with a claim, later found to be unsubstantiated by a State Police investigation, that the department was filing for DWI grant money it didn't deserve. The recent complaints -- and potential lawsuit -- about how part-time officers are scheduled for work are a continuation of those attacks, Meier wrote in his letter.

As soon as Trustee Ken Lauer finished reading the letter, Peterson quickly said, "resignation accepted."

Trustee Art Ianni asked whether the board should vote to accept the resignation and Peterson agreed to a vote.

Peterson, along with trustees Keith Busch and David Bielec voted yes. Lauer and Ianni voted no.

Through the course of the meeting, it was determined that Peterson would not only oversee scheduling of officers, but other supervisor duties, at least until the village figures out what to do with the police department.

Former mayor Todd Skeet said he hired Meier because he figured out he couldn't do the things the village needed to maintain a police department, such as ensuring officers are properly certified with their weapons and process tickets.

"I didn't know about any of that stuff," Skeet said. "I don't think the current mayor is trained in law enforcement. It opens the whole village up to a possible lawsuit. The things the police administrator does is more than just scheduling, which is only about 10 percent of his job."

The board agreed to form a committee to study what should happen with the police department -- whether to continue with the current system of a part-time administrator and several part-time officers, hire a full-time officer with fewer part-time officers or contract with the Sheriff's Office.

Two residents along with Peterson and Ianni will serve on the committee. The first action, Peterson said, will be to set up a meeting with Gordon Dibble, chief deputy in charge of road patrol for the Sheriff's Office.

At the start of the meeting, Peterson announced the meeting would be run according to standard open meeting rules -- sticking to the agenda and allowing public comment only during a prescribed portion of the meeting.

Public comments were held until after village business was completed.

Village resident Greg Lang spoke first and complained about all of the negative scrutiny the village has received recently, and without naming Peterson, said there was only one person responsible.

Lang rattled off several incidents that Peterson has been implicated in recently, from reportedly calling Lauer saying a meeting was canceled, to allegedly firing the village clerks, to today's controversy over an anonymous letter sent to the owner of Camden Group trying to silence former trustee Al Graham.

While nobody directly accused Peterson of being behind the letter, Graham said the letter was turned over to the special prosecutor looking into the village court's missing money case and that it would be tested for fingerprints.

Lang asked that Peterson resign his office. Peterson shook his head, "no."

Another resident pointed out that the letter threatens to get Camden's contract pulled for operation of the sewer plant, but only somebody on the village board would have the power for such action.

The second speaker was Justice David O'Connor.

On April 10, O'Connor spoke to the board about the village court budget and questioned some of what has happened in the court over the past couple of years and brought it under the scrutiny of the Judicial Review Commission.

Following the meeting, O'Connor claimed that former village justice Robert Alexander sent him a nasty e-mail saying that somebody had played a tape for him of his comments at the April 10 meeting.

Alexander's daughter, Jenny Warner, left a comment on The Batavian challenging O'Connor's claim that Alexander wrote a "vile" e-mail.

She wrote:

The allegations that were made by Justice O"Connor about a "vile" and "threatening" email from my father Robert Alexander bothered me since it was so out of character for my Dad. Howard I think this email should be posted so the public can decide if they think it is vile and threatening.

Tonight, O'Connor read the e-mail he said came from Alexander at the meeting.

Dave please do not email me ever again. I want no communications or interaction with you in any form. I heard the tape from the meeting and read the comments of you trowing (sic) me under the buss (sic) and making those comments about me. You are not a friend and obviously all that bull about thanking me for dropping out of the Corfu race and asking support of you was a big lie. I guess I should have had your arrested after you flipped out and physically attacked me with those body blocks when I came to do the arraignment, but I gave you grace and forgiveness.

O'Connor said the accusation of a physical attack was complete fiction.

Graham also addressed a comment left by Warner saying the disagreements with Peterson are over his race.

"There is not one person here or in this village who has ever heard me ever say anything racist," Graham said. "I don't even tell racist jokes, but Bob's daughter wants to make this about race. This is not about the color of the man's skin. This is about a man's integrity and the truthfulness of the man. It's about me letting you as residents of the village know when he's lying to you."

During the meeting, Peterson did not address any of the comments made about him, except to deny any involvement in either the civil service complaint or the potential lawsuit over scheduling of police officers.

April 22, 2013 - 1:41pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in corfu.

More controversy in Corfu today has put the owner of a sewer facility management company in the unusual position of defending his employee's free speech rights.

Kenneth G. Scherrieble, president of the Camden Group, received an unsigned letter that threatened to seek a termination of his company's contract with the Village of Corfu unless one of his employees stops speaking at public meetings.

Camden manages Corfu's wastewater treatment facility and former trustee Al Graham is a Camden manager.

"While Al Grahm (sic) attends board meetings and railroads village business and spews negativity about certain board members," the letter says, "I will consider this brash situation of a huge conflict of business between your company and I will look to generate interest to replace your company. I don't believe that is good business for you or your company!"

In response, Scherrieble fired off a letter today to the trustees that defends Graham's right to participate as a village resident in village discussions.

"I will not be threatened by anyone," Scherrieble writes. "If I lose the Village of Corfu contract because one of my employees exercised their CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT, then so be it. But that will be a truly sad day for the Village and for America."

In his letter, Scherrieble notes that Graham's son served in Iraq and Afghanistan and his own son is entering the Marines.

"Why do these young men put their lives at risk?" he writes. "Because they believe in the rights guaranteed to them as a Citizen of this Country. They believe that United States Constitution is a sacred document, and that the tenants within, those Rights given to all Citizens of this Country are worth laying their lives down for. "

There is a regular village board meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

April 19, 2013 - 2:25am
posted by Howard B. Owens in corfu.

Corfu's budget hearing Thursday night wasn't without its moments of conflict.

Newly elected Village Justice David O'Connor confronted Mayor Ralph Peterson over an e-mail O'Connor said he received from former village justice Robert Alexander.

The village board and residents also spent several minutes discussing whether the village should continue to have a police force, or what type of department it should have, especially in light of the recent threat of a lawsuit from six police officer employees.

O'Connor was the first to speak and he wanted to know if Peterson played a tape recording of Tuesday's meeting for Alexander.

According to O'Connor, Alexander sent O'Connor a "vile" and "threatening" e-mail and said he had heard a recording of the meeting.

Peterson did have a tape recorder on the table in front of him during the meeting.

O'Connor made some critical remarks of Alexander, particularly in light of the comptroller's audit of the court and the allegation of missing court funds.

Among O'Connor's pointed remarks was that court commission officials don't often worry about the courts around the state, but they wake in the middle of the night with worry about Corfu's village court.

Peterson denied playing the tape for Alexander.

"I've gotten no control over what other people do," Peterson said.

There was a person at the meeting using a Droid tablet to video record the meeting.

As for the police department, one resident questioned why the village even needs to employ its own police officers.

Peterson said he's researched whether the village could contract with the Sheriff's Office for village law enforcement and found it's an expensive proposition. The Sheriff's Office would charge the village up to $32 an hour for the hours a deputy would work in the village.

Trustee Art Ianni pointed out that a contracted deputy wouldn't generate the revenue village officers do to help pay for the service.

"I'm not a big fan of the Corfu ticket-writing machine, but are deputies going to write 100 tickets a week?" Ianni said.

Trustee Keith Busch said on average, deputies won't respond as quickly to a complaint as an on-duty village police officer responds.

Trustee Ken Lauer suggested that the village go to a department with one full-time officer and two part-time, which could solve some of the current conflicts within the department about work hours.

The entire discussion seemed prompted by the threat of a lawsuit over an alleged violation of civil service law.

There was also some confrontation over Peterson's pay.

The mayor's budget is $5,700, which includes $1,500 for mayoral training.

"Obviously, I need it," Peterson said.

Resident Greg Lang wondered why, if Peterson is new on the job, why is he being paid the same as former mayor Todd Skeet? Lang pointed out that the trustees cut O'Connor's salary by $2,000 annually because he's new in the job.

When asked if he would take a pay cut, Peterson said flatly, "no."

Ianni said none of the trustees are taking a pay cut.

Lang wanted the mayor's pay put to a vote, but none of the trustees made such a motion.

Some residents complained that Peterson wasn't taking a pay cut when employees were being asked to take a pay cut, but Clerk/Treasurer Sandra Thomas pointed out that the only employees with pay cuts are employees who came forward and volunteered to take a cut in pay.

The total general fund spending plan for the village totals $682,109. The proposed tax rate is $3.11, up from $2.97.

The trustees meet again at 6:30 p.m., Monday.

April 18, 2013 - 11:27pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, fire, pembroke, Darien, corfu, east pembroke.

A structure fire is reported 735 Genesee St., Corfu.

Corfu fire along with Pembroke, East Pembroke, Darien and the City's Fast Team all dispatched.

Firefighters on scene say people are still in the house and they're trying to get them out. The fire is at the back of the structure, possibily on a porch.

UPDATE 11:34 p.m.: The City's Fast Team is cancelled.

UPDATE 11:35 p.m.: The fire is knocked down. Crittendon and Akron were also called, but now are cancelled.

UPDATE 12:15 a.m.: Corfu returning to quarters.

April 18, 2013 - 7:37am
posted by Howard B. Owens in corfu.

Village of Corfu officials have been notified that five part-time police officers are considering a lawsuit against the village over an alleged violation of civil service law.

Some of the village's part-time officers have been upset that Police Administrator Jim Meiers is not scheduling them for work shifts while scheduling other part-time officers for more than 19.5 hours of work a week.

The officers who have retained legal representation are in what is known as "competitive" positions, meaning they took exams and went through the civil service hiring process. The officers reportedly receiving more work hours were hired on a "non-competitive" basis.

A letter to Mayor Ralph Peterson and village board from attorney Andrew P. Fleming of the Hamburg-based law firm Chiacchia and Fleming, states the village is on notice of a possible suit and should explore whether it is interested in pursuing a settlement.

"We believe that you and the Village Board are familiar with the factual basis for the complaints that our clients have made," the letter states. "In essence, your so-called police administrator, James Meier, has been running roughshod over the rights of our clients in retaliation for their having raised a number of concerns and for their stated intentions of forming a union."

Represented by Fleming are Gene Nati, Richard Retzlaff, Peter Scanio, Michael Okal and Simon Biegasiewicz.

The letter also alleged that one of the clients was threatened because of his political activity.

Fleming also claims that back pay is owed to his clients, without specifying the amount of back pay being sought.

"We urge you and the Board to take a proactive approach to trying to resolve the problems that have arisen in your Police Department," Fleming writes. "It is my opinion that things are out of control, but that sound leadership can restore some semblance of balance in the future."

The board is holding a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. to discuss the village's proposed budget.

April 16, 2013 - 9:46am
posted by Howard B. Owens in corfu.

It was pretty much back to business as usual Monday night in the Village of Corfu, which should be good news for residents concerned about the possible loss of the village clerk and assistant.

Sandra Thomas, the village clerk/treasurer and Denise Beal, assistant, returned to work Monday, following a week of turmoil sparked by an incident between the two employees and Mayor Ralph Peterson.

Thomas had no statement about her return to work, but smiled and said yes when asked if she was glad to be back.

In a budget meeting Monday, the trustees got down to business and, compared to a board meeting a week ago, there was much less rancor and a greater focus on getting work done.

The current budget proposal -- which is still in draft -- would raise the village property tax rate from $2.19 $2.97 per thousand to $4.20 per thousand.

A public hearing on the proposed budget is scheduled for 6:30 p.m., Thursday.

The meeting opened with a presentation by Mark Masse, VP of operations for GCEDC. Earlier this year, Masse learned that a new grant became available through the USDA's Office of Rural Development for certain types of job creation projects.

The planned expansion of the village sewer treatment plant in conjunction with the Town of Pembroke is a qualifying project.

The expansion at cheese maker Yancey's Fancy depends on the sewer project, Masse said.

"We really need the sewer project," Masse said.

The board approved applying for the $99,999 grant ($1 less than $100,000, Masse said, because the scoring of the application goes down with that additional dollar).

The section of the budget discussed was the Village Court.

Newly elected village justice David O'Connor (top photo) made it clear right away he wasn't happy with Peterson's proposal to eliminate the full-time court clerk position and replace it with two part-time positions.

"With the case load we have, we should have one full-time and one part-time clerk," O'Connor said. "The paperwork with one traffic ticket is about an inch high and if you don't get it right, it's not fair to the people and guess who it all falls on? Me."

The Pembroke Town Court has two full-time clerks to handle 3,400 cases a year. Corfu's case load is 2,600.

O'Connor praised current clerk Pam Yasses and said she is doing an outstanding job of handling court business by herself.

Yasses said there is minimal need for a part-time clerk, but she would like to have help on court night.

At the request of O'Connor, Peterson reappointed Yasses as clerk. If the budget is approved, the position will be full time.

Some residents questioned and pushed back on the idea that O'Connor will only be paid $15,000 this year when last year the justice was paid $17,000.

O'Connor said several times, "I'm OK with $15,000."

During the discussion, Yasses noted that in 2011, the last year Brandi Watts served as clerk, the court collected $221,144, while in 2012, the first full year Yasses handled court duties, ticket fines jumped to $309,726.

Watts is the daughter of former justice Robert Alexander.

A comptroller's audit alleges that at least $10,000 was missing in 2011 from the court's treasury, but some village residents fear the number could be higher.

There was also concern, noted in the comptroller's audit, that Watts often wasn't in the office when people came in to pay traffic fines.

A special prosecutor is now overseeing the State Police investigation into the alleged missing funds.

Perhaps the most contentious issue of the evening had to do with the police department and how administrator Jim Meier is scheduling work hours for all of his part-time officers.

Recently, part-time officer Gene Nati has complained that the officers hired through the civil service process (competitive hires) are being given almost no hours, while non-competitive hires are being given, in some cases, more than 19.5 hours per week.

Nati brought the issue to the attention of Karen Marchese, HR director for Genesee County, complaining that civil service law prevents non-competitive employees from working more than 19.5 hours a week when there are competitive employees on staff.

Marchese wrote a letter to Peterson on April 10 informing him that working non-competitive staff more than 19.5 hours a week is a violation of the civil service law.

At a meeting on April 10, Nati demanded the mayor enforce the language of the letter immediately, requiring Meier to start scheduling more hours for competitive employees.

"Karen Marchese may have some ax to grind against the village," Meier said.

Peterson gave Meier until Monday (yesterday) to bring forward information that would back his position.

According to Peterson, he spoke with Marchese yesterday (she reportedly retired Friday), and Marchese stood by her letter of April 10. (UPDATE: County Manager Jay Gsell said this morning that Marchese's last day was yesterday.)

"I would like us to come into compliance," Peterson said. "In my position, I'm the one who got the formal letter saying we're not in compliance. It's my name on the letter. I would like to be in compliance until it's resolved."

Meier asked for more time, saying Marchese did not return his calls all last week and other people who can help provide information that will back his position have not returned his calls.

He said if he starts scheduling competitive employees for more hours, and the non-competitive can't work more than 19.5, the village will be left without police protection at times, because the competitive employees often call in sick.

County officials have been aware of what Corfu has been doing for a long time, Meier said, and nobody at the county raised a red flag until this month.

"The fact is, we've been scheduling non-competitive employees for more than 19.5 hours a week for four years and it hasn't been an issue until a lone person went to Karen Marchese last week and complained," Meier said.

Trustee Art Ianni expressed concern that this issue was being used to undermine the authority of the police administrator.

In the end, Peterson agreed to give Meier until May 1 to either get another opinion the village can rely on or change his scheduling practices to comply with Marchese's opinion of civil service law.

April 13, 2013 - 12:18am
posted by Howard B. Owens in corfu.

Corfu Mayor Ralph Peterson may have won the 2013 election by a mere two votes, but it was clear Friday night that whatever support he once had in Corfu has largely evaporated over the course of his two weeks in office.

Following a week in which he has come under increasing attack by fellow trustees and Corfu residents, not one resident showed up to Friday's evening meeting to support Peterson, even though it was clear beforehand that his leadership would be challenged.

Peterson told trustees shortly before the meeting that he had a court appearance to attend, even though 24 hours earlier he indicated he would attend the meeting.

Prior to the meeting, Trustee Ken Lauer made it publicly known that he would ask Peterson to resign, and the first action of the meeting was a motion by Lauer demanding Peterson give up his office.

The motion failed 2-1. Deputy Mayor David Bielec has been out of town all week and also missed Friday's meeting. With Peterson absent, any motion would need the three votes of all three present trustees to pass.

Trustee Art Ianni voted against the motion, he said, merely on the principle that a man with only a week or two on the job shouldn't be tossed aside, but should be given a chance to improve his performance.

More significantly, Keith Busch, who ran on the Corfu-only party line of the Corfu United Party with Peterson, supported the motion asking Peterson to resign.

When residents challenged Ianni's "support" of Peterson, Lauer jumped to Ianni's defense and said he didn't read Ianni's position as one of support of Peterson, but rather a position based on principle.

Ianni had said he never had a problem with Peterson while Peterson was a trustee, and Lauer defended that statement as well.

"Rosie has come up with many good ideas," Lauer said. "He did many good things, he's just going through a rough time right now."

Ianni is still willing to give Peterson the benefit of the doubt and have a chance to redeem himself.

"I saw a newly elected official kind of push his way through office and it's a shame he did it," Ianni said.

Both Ianni and Busch supported every motion that followed the resignation motion, all of which ran against Peterson's prior actions or statements as mayor.

All three present trustees supported reappointing Sandra Thomas and Denise Beal to the clerk's office.

The mayor had tried to tell the two women on Tuesday, by his own admission, that they wouldn't be reappointed. Witnesses say Peterson fired the clerk/treasurer and assistant.

With the support of the majority of trustees, both Thomas and Beal have been promised jobs for at least the next two years.

It's still unclear if Thomas and Beal will return to work, if they do, trustees promised they will be welcomed back with no penalty and full pay for the time they've missed during the week of turmoil.

If they don't return, Lauer said, the board will be faced with no option but to try and hire new clerk and treasurer staff because village business must still take place, including completing a village budget and applying for a long-anticipated grant to complete a sewer project.

The trustees also voted 3-0 to reappoint Mark Boylan as attorney for the village.

On Monday, Peterson tried to push through Kevin Earl as the new village attorney. The motion to appoint Earl was mishandled and for much of the next several days it was unclear who exactly filled the village attorney position. This afternoon, Earl e-mailed the trustees and said even if the board held a new vote to appoint him, he would decline the position.

The board also passed a motion 3-0 demanding that Peterson have no further contact with village employees. The resolution is probably unenforceable because Peterson is the elected mayor, but if Peterson does contact an employee and the employee files a harassment complaint, the village will not provide legal assistance to Peterson if he is sued.

The village board is scheduled to meet again at 6:30 p.m., Monday.

During the meeting residents passed a petition they intend to send to Governor Andrew Cuomo asking Cuomo to remove Peterson from office.

"What we have to do as community is all stand together," said former Mayor Todd Skeet near the end of the meeting. "Maybe we go door-to-door and maybe we get everyone on this campaign. Like I said, the people of this community and this village put this man in power. The only way this man can be taken out is by the people in this community. Each meeting, it looks like more and more people are coming. That is good. Let's keep it up and we work together to ask this guy to step down."

Top photo: Lauer, Ianni and Busch. Bottom, a resident signs a petition asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo to remove Peterson from office.

Previously:

April 12, 2013 - 4:31pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in corfu.

The situation has gotten to the point in Corfu, Trustee Ken Lauer believes, that Mayor Ralph Peterson should step down.

Lauer e-mailed Peterson this morning asking him to resign and Lauer plans to restate his request at a village budget meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

Lauer said he believes that while Peterson has been on the job for only about two weeks, he's already been caught lying, has taken action contrary to agreements with the other trustees and made it difficult for the village to operate in an effective and efficient manner.

Mayor Ralph Peterson (file photo)

"We as a board have addressed the issues that have been caused by the mayor," Lauer said. "No one else has caused them. Absolutely no one, except the mayor. He's taken responsibility and claimed he's new to the thing and learning and he apologizes. We've accepted those. I accepted those, but up to a point."

The tipping point, Lauer said, came this morning

According to Lauer the trustees and the mayor reached an agreement to allow Sandra Thomas and Denise Beal to take the weekend to decide whether to return to work.

Thomas and Beal were either fired Wednesday by Peterson or they walked out of their jobs, depending on who's version of events you believe.

This morning, according to an e-mail shared with The Batavian by Lauer, Peterson wrote to attorney Kevin Earl asking for advice on how to get new personnel into the clerk's office Monday morning.

Lauer feels Peterson is ignoring a prior agreement with the other trustees and replace Thomas and Beal before they've been given a  fair chance to return to work.

In an e-mail that appears to be from Peterson to Earl, Peterson writes, "Sandy walked off the job with the misunderstanding of being fired. She has been contacted several times informing her she has a job and return to work and she has not. What actions can be taken? How many day are required to have a job abandonment situation."

It's Lauer's understanding that Mark Boylan is still the attorney for the village, not Earl, because Earl was not duly appointed earlier this week.

Among Lauer's complaints is that Peterson is unilaterally contacted legal council and asked for advice, causing the village to run up legal fees without board concurrence. That's exactly the kind of activity that Peterson accused former mayor Todd Skeet of taking, Lauer noted.

"You might want to know that the residents of the village are very disgruntled with you and will be using their rights to ask the Supreme Court and Governor of the State to remove you as Mayor," Lauer wrote in his e-mail. "I would ask that you seriously consider resigning from your position as Mayor before more harm and legal costs are created and borne by the residents of the Village of Corfu."

Last night Peterson said he was done talking with The Batavian. We sent him a text message this afternoon asking for comment on Lauer's request that he resign and so far have not received a response.

It's Lauer's belief, he said, that Peterson's actions are meant as a smoke screen to divert attention -- if not actually attempt to conceal evidence -- away from the current Commission on Judicial Conduct investigation, and apparent -- now -- criminal investigation, over the alleged disappearance of funds from the court of former Village Justice Robert Alexander.

More than a year ago, a state audit alleged that at least $10,000, if not more, is missing and unaccounted for from the coffers of the court.

Alexander's daughter, Brandi Watts, was clerk for Alexander at the time the money allegedly went missing.

Much of the conflict on the board of trustees between Peterson and former mayor Todd Skeet along with former trustee Al Graham started about the time allegations of misappropriations first arose.

Peterson and Alexander are reportedly friends.

According to a letter sent to Peterson on Wednesday by Donald G. O'Geen, district attorney for Wyoming County, there is a criminal investigation being under taken in the case.

O'Geen is acting as a Special District Attorney since the Genesee County District Attorney's Office may have a conflict of interest. The local DA's office has previously tried cases in Alexander's courtroom. Alexander is also still a justice for the Town of Pembroke and the local DA's office must try cases in the Pembroke Town Court.

The letter from O'Geen follows a complaint filed Monday by Thomas and Beal that Peterson had been pressuring them to give up their passwords to the village computer system.

The village system acts as a back up for the court sytem and has court records on it.

"It has come to my attention through numerous sources that you and the other members of the board wish to secure documents and/or records pertain to the court," O'Geen wrote in his letter. "I am putting you all on notice that any actions, regardless of intentions, that may impair, obstruct or tamper with any items relevant to court operations may be grounds for action by the Genesee County Grand Jury. Please do not make copies, remove, or touch in any way, court documents or any court business records, including equipment until further notice. Any such action may be deemed to be an action to tamper with physical evidence. You should be aware that every record of the court sytem that currently exists may be used in an official proceeding at some point in the future."

O'Geen continues, "It is clear from your actions prior to and after the election that you may be biased toward one side or the other in this investigation and any actions on your part or on the board's behalf may present a very clear appearance of impropriety."

O'Geen also warned Peterson not to take any administrative action that could be construed as tampering with witnesses.

Current court personnel as well as village staff are potential witnesses in the case.

In the e-mail Peterson appears to have sent to Earl this morning, Peterson wrote, "I am concerned that the actions of the office personnel saying I fired them, the delay of allowing me access to the computers are related to this (O'Geen's) letter. I was not aware there was sensitive investigation information on the Village computers. If there was why didn't they remove it before I took office they had two weeks to do it! There seems to be a plot of some kind here."

Lauer also shared an e-mail exchange he had with O'Geen.  Lauer asked if the DA's investigation extended to the village, not just the village court.

"The other aspects of the village are not being investigated but the way things are going you never know," O'Geen wrote. "The only non-court related property that I am concerned with is the Village Clerk and/or Deputy Village Clerk's computer because apparently there may be back up court records on either of those and the fact that someone had tried to gain access at 1:15 in the morning two days ago indicates to me that this probably the case."

April 11, 2013 - 9:41pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in corfu.

The village office in Corfu will open tomorrow morning, but rather than being staffed by longtime Clerk Treasurer Sandra Thomas and assistant Denise Beal, Trustee Ken Lauer said he expects he will be answering phones and handling whatever business he can.

The trustees held a budget meeting Thursday night, but didn't address the clerk situation in public session.

After the meeting Lauer agreed to discuss the clerk issue and said the actual employment situation with Thomas and Beal has yet to be resolved.

He said he's hopeful they will return to work. He said he spoke with both of them Wednesday night and had "productive" conversations, but he all he knows is they are considering their options.

On Monday, Thomas and Beal filed a complaint through Lauer against Mayor Ralph Peterson, accusing Peterson of trying to pressure them into handing over their computer passwords.

On Wednesday, Peterson showed up at the village office and by the time he left, Thomas and Beal had packed up their belongings and turned in their keys.

Whether the two women were fired or walked out is a fact in dispute between Peterson and people who say they witnessed the exchange.

We initially tried to ask Peterson, after the meeting, about the clerk situation and he said he was done talking with The Batavian and silently packed up his briefcase.

Trustee Art Ianni said he had "no statement" on the matter.

The budget meeting was held entirely in closed session.

Prior to going into closed session, Peterson said the session was being held to discuss personnel matters, specifically to talk about salary considerations with the two highway department employees.

More than an hour later, the trustees emerged (some 10 minutes after the two employees had left the meeting) and reported to community members at the meeting what they had discussed.

Besides the two employees agreeing to a cut in pay, Peterson said the trustees also agreed to sell some surplus equipment, expecting to raise $26,000, and cut $3,000 from the equipment budget.

Resident Greg Lang objected to the non-personnel issues being discussed in closed session as a possible violation of the New York Open Meeting Law.

Ianni said, "You know how it is. You get into a discussion and it just starts to flow."

Lauer almost didn't make the meeting.

When the meeting was first called to order, Peterson said, "Where's Ken?"

After Peterson, Ianni and Keith Busch went into closed session, former trustee Al Graham called Lauer and when Graham came back in the room he said Lauer told him that Peterson had called him earlier to say the meeting was canceled.

Lauer confirmed later he did receive such a call from Peterson. He also said Peterson had tried calling him just prior to the meeting but didn't leave a message.

Once Lauer arrived, Lauer said that Peterson apologized, but didn't elaborate.

April 11, 2013 - 9:51am
posted by Howard B. Owens in corfu.

As some Corfu residents feared last night, the village office did not reopen this morning.

There's no word on when it might reopen.

Previously: Apparent blow up between Corfu mayor and employees has village administration in jeopardy

April 11, 2013 - 12:43am
posted by Howard B. Owens in corfu.

The big worry on the minds of a lot of people on Corfu tonight is, will their village office open in the morning?

An employment dispute between the mayor and the village clerk/treasurer and her assistant blew up this afternoon and depending on who you believe, the two employees were either fired or walked out.

Mayor Rosie Peterson would prefer to call the incident a misunderstanding, but people who say they were witnesses to whatever happened claim Peterson fired Sandra Thomas and Denise Beal.

What is certain by all accounts is that Thomas and Beal cleaned out their desks and turned in their keys this afternoon.

The event led Peterson to call an emergency meeting of the village board to try and figure out what to do.

Without a clerk and a treasurer, the village has no way to pay bills, issue paychecks, collect bill payments or deal with residents issues.

Three trustees and Peterson met at 7:30 p.m. and immediately went into closed session.

An hour later they emerged and Peterson said, "The result of our executive session is that we agree there was a misunderstanding today and as a board we reconciled the situation and we would like the office personnel to return to work."

Trustee Art Ianni said the board agreed that Thomas and Beal can come back to work, knowing that they will have jobs through the remainder of Peterson's term as mayor.

When asked if Thomas and Beal had agreed to stay on, Ianni said they had no choice under civil service law.

When a citizen pointed out that if they were fired, any such law wouldn't apply, Ianni said it was his understanding that they weren't fired and that it was just a "misunderstanding."

Trustee Ken Lauer said he attempted to contact Thomas and Beal during the closed session, but couldn't reach them.

So the board really doesn't know if Thomas and Beal will come back to work in the morning.

Former Trustee Al Graham said he witnesses the exchange between Peterson and the employees.

He said Peterson arrived at the village hall and asked both women to go into the conference room with him. When he attempted to close the door, Beal wouldn't let him, Graham said.

When Peterson asked why, Beal said, "I don't trust you."

Peterson then said, "Well, you might as well know, I am not going to reappoint you."

Under village law in New York, the mayor must reappoint certain key positions each year.

Beal asked, "are we being fired?" and according to Graham, Peterson said, "yes."

Thomas and Beal then began packing up their stuff and Peterson, he said, "started to back track," telling them they weren't fired and that they needed to say on the job.

About two dozen residents attended the emergency meeting and all of them seemed upset with Peterson.

Several citizens demanded that Peterson better explain his actions, but he said he had and that as he said, the whole affair was just a misunderstanding.

Peterson is only a few weeks into his new job as mayor after narrowly beating former mayor Todd Skeet in the last village election.

Lauer said his understanding of what happened was much like Graham explained, but he also knows that Peterson explained it as a misunderstanding.

"Rosie is definitely learning and moving along," Lauer said. "It's not an easy process and unfortunately, it plays havoc with people's lives.

"The thing is," he added, "we need to play together better. We have to learn to get along better and we're going to do that."

April 9, 2013 - 9:52am
posted by Howard B. Owens in corfu.

A lot of topics were covered in a four-hour meeting of the board of trustees for the Village of Corfu on Monday evening.

  • The board decided to move ahead with an upgrade to the sewer treatment plant in conjunction with the Town of Pembroke;
  • The board attempted to hire a new village attorney;
  • A former trustee wanted to know why newly elected Mayor Rosie Peterson called up his employer to ban him from the sewer plant (which he manages);
  • A current trustee said he received two written complaints from village employees about demands that they share their work computer passwords;
  • The trustee took up the topic of the police budget as part of an ongoing attempt to close a possible budget deficit.

So, we'll take these topics one at a time.

Sewer Treatment
Paul R. Chatfield, president of Chatfield Engineers, made a presentation on the proposal to expand the capacity of the Corfu waste treatment plant in conjunction with the Town of Pembroke.

Peterson (inset photo) said he asked for the presentation because he didn't believe village residents were ever given an opportunity to learn the cost of upgrading the sewer plant without involving Pembroke.

The plant was built 30 years ago and needs upgrades, but it's also handling only 65,000 gallons a day when it was originally designed to handle 135,000 gallons a day.

The cost of building in conjunction with Pembroke is nearly $1.7 million. The cost of Corfu going it alone is nearly $1.5 million.

However, the Department of Environmental Conservation grant to help pay for the project is contingent on Corfu and Pembroke working together on the project. The grant covers $1.1 million of the cost.

Plus Genesee County Economic Development Center is providing a $75,000 grant to the project, contingent on the project getting the DEC grant. 

Not factored into Chatfield Engineers' calculations is another $100,000 grant that has recently become available, but the village has yet to apply for it.

With the grants, the cost of the debt service for Corfu residents on a combined plant is 64 cents per 1,000 gallons, the cost of going it alone (and therefore no grants) is $4.66 per thousand gallons.

The cost of operations and maintenance also increases in the go-it-alone scenario from $286 per home per year to $397.

If the village were to go it alone, the average resident would pay $677 annually for sewer service while combining with Pembroke means an annual fee of $324 for that same household.

As Pembroke grows, the cost per household will decrease as the cost is shared by more property owners.

Pembroke High School is also facing potentially costly sewer upgrades, which the combined plant can help solve, but without the combined plant, the school district would need to raise district taxes to help pay for upgrades.

The trustees voted to have an attorney draft a resolution on issuing a bond to help pay for the Corfu/Pembroke project.

New Village Attorney
The trustees went into closed session with local attorney Kevin Earl to discuss whether to hire Earl as the new village attorney.

When the trustees came out of closed session, Trustee Keith Busch made a motion to hire. Trustee Art Ianni seconded the motion but said he wanted to discuss it. As soon as it was seconded, Peterson called the question and he, along with Busch, voted yes and Trustee Ken Lauer voted no.

Ianni then explained that he could support hiring Earl if former village attorney Mark Boylan was retained to handle the sewer project.

"I don't think having him jumping in when this all started four years ago is a good idea," Ianni said. "Writing letters and sending e-mails and going back and forth between two lawyers, that's a bad way to go."

Peterson said he agreed.

There was a little more discussion and then Peterson moved onto the next issue.

Ianni never cast a vote on the motion.

After the meeting Peterson and Sandra Thomas, village clerk, admitted the motion had not been properly handled and the issue will need to be on Thursday's agenda (when the board meets for further budget discussions).

Once the voting started on Busch's motion, it needed to be voted down before a new motion was made and it couldn't be amended at that point, plus Ianni never actually cast a vote on the motion.

Later in the meeting, former trustee Al Graham asked why Peterson wanted to replace Boylan. Peterson said, "One thing about this post, I do have some options available to me. This was a board decision and other board members voted also."

Peterson and Busch also said Earl's rates are lower than Boylan's.

Peterson's call to Al Graham's boss
The first topic raised during public comments was by former trustee Graham. He wanted to know why Peterson called his boss and told him Graham was banned from the sewer plant.

Graham's employer has the contract to run the sewer plant and Graham is a regional manager, overseeing the Corfu plant among others.

Peterson confirmed he made the call.

"I don't trust you," Peterson said.

Graham pressed the issue and Peterson repeated that he didn't trust Graham and said nothing more.

Tim Skeet, brother of former mayor Todd Skeet, asked, "so you're going to run the village on gut feeling?"

Peterson said he felt like he had been verbally punched in the mouth a few times by Graham and that's why he didn't trust him.

"This village board was elected by the people of the community and the board is who actually makes the decisions," Peterson said. "The mayor is the manager of the organization, so when we talk about actual management of the village, the mayor is the manager. The board makes all of the decisions."

During public comments, it was noted that there will be a change in how disposal of large items will be handled in the village from now on. For years, residents could drop off items at a roll-off container once a month. With the new budget, the expense is being trimmed, and the roll-off will be available only once a year, in June.

Employee Complaints
Lauer said in the absence of the deputy mayor, who is out of town, village employees Thomas and Deputy Clerk/Treasurer Denise Beal, filed written complaints with him about Peterson demanding the passwords to their work computers.

Obtaining the password, it was noted, would allow Peterson to alter files without being detected.

Peterson said he was merely trying to learn as much as he could about what has been going on with the village and why it's in the shape it's in.

"All I'm trying to do is find out what's going on this village," Peterson said. "I get criticized for not knowing anything, but then when I try to figure out what's going on I get criticized. It's one of those things where I'm learning. I guess some people are born with all the knowledge they need to know when they need to know it at that point in time. Unfortunately, I'm not that gifted."

Multiple sources have confirmed with The Batavian that earlier, after Peterson began trying to obtain passwords to village computers, officials from the NYS Commission on Judicial Conduct had seized the village court's computers. The commission is conducting an investigation into the conduct of former Village Justice Robert Alexander, who presided over the court when at least $10,000 in court fines and bail money allegedly disappeared.

As to the possible connection after the meeting between Peterson trying to obtain passwords and the seizure of the court computers, Peterson said it was the first he was hearing about the seizure and he had no comment.

When the former mayor asked during this portion of the meeting what was going to be done with the employee complaints, Peterson told him the time for public comment was over and he couldn't speak.

It was the only time during the entire meeting in which a specific member of the public was told he or she couldn't speak.

With the election of a new justice, Peterson must appoint an acting justice. The acting justice is required by village law so there is a justice is available to fill in when the elected justice is not available.

The acting justice, if the person has no prior experience, must take a state-mandated class. That class is being offered this week.

Peterson said he needs more time to think about it.

Some village residents expressed concern that Peterson is delaying so he can appoint Alexander to the acting justice position.

Police Budget
The bottom line is the police budget is being reduced from $170,000 to $137,000.

After a long discussion about the budget, in which Officer Gene Nati and Peterson discussed how to make the police department more profitable, the board went into closed session -- even though the closed session wasn't previously announced on the agenda -- with Police Administrator Sgt. James Meier.

After the closed session, Peterson announced that Meier had offered to take an $8,000 annual cut in pay.

Meier receives a salary to work 20 hours a week overseeing the part-time village police force.

After the meeting, Meier, who is employed full-time with the Sheriff's Office, confirmed he made the offer because he does have a full-time job and other village employees need their present jobs. He hopes by taking a pay cut it will help protect those jobs.

During the meeting Nati pressed the board to eliminate the administrator position.

He provided a break down of revenue for the village from traffic tickets and said the number of tickets written from 2008 to 2012 declined, and so did revenue. Nati believes the police department has gone from a revenue generator to a money loser in that time frame.

"The giant elephant in the room when you look at the village numbers and do the cost comparison from 2008 to now is that one officer accounts for 23 percent of the patrol budget but generate's zero dollars in revenue," Nati said.

Peterson asked Meier if he would be willing, in addition to his administrative duties, to go on patrol and write tickets and Meier gave a one word answer, "no."

Nati pushed for more patrol hours.

"Keep in mind," Nati said, "that every hour an officer doesn't work he doesn't generate any revenue."

Peterson said what he would like to do is cut patrol hours, but then concentrate those hours during times when traffic is going to Darien Lake.

If the patrols generate a profit, then the additional revenue can be used to fund more hours for officers.

Budget Deficit
At the start of the budget discussion, Peterson said the village still had a $211,000 budget deficit to close.

The village anticipates $530,000 in revenue with current expenses, before additional budget talks, at $741,00.

If those numbers were to hold, the village would need to raise property taxes from $2.90 per thousand to $7.19 per thousand.

Peterson said it's up to village residents to decide if they want to make the expense cuts necessary to balance the budget or accept a tax increase.

The trustees will discuss the budget again on Thursday and on Friday.

April 8, 2013 - 9:51am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime, pembroke, Darien, corfu, bergen.

Michael B. Collier, 50, of Gladstone Street, Rochester, and Stephen J. Wood, 60, of West Main Street, Rochester, are charged with petit larceny. Collier and Wood are accused of shoplifting at Walmart. Collier was arraigned and turned over to the Orlean's County Sheriff's Office on a warrant and Wood was jailed on $1,000 bail.

Brandon L. Doward, 28, of 125 Liberty St., lowor, Batavia, is charged with harassment, 2nd. Doward is accused of pushing a woman to the ground during an argument. He was jailed on $750 bail.

Diana L. Bloom, 55, of 117 State St., lower, Batavia, is charged with petit larceny. Bloom is accused of shoplifting at the Hess Mart, corner of West Main and Oak streets, Batavia.

Harry J. Hall, 46, of Pine Tree Drive, Poughkeepsie, is charged with possession of untaxed cigarettes, plate obstructed and driver's view obstructed. Hall was allegedly found with 24 cartons of untaxed cigarettes during at traffic stop by Deputy Chris Parker at 10:01 a.m., Sunday, on Route 77, Pembroke.

Mitchell Scott Lindbergh, 44, of Chairfactory Road, Elma, is charged with stalking, 4th. Lindbergh is accused of repeated contact with a person in Darien he had been told to leave alone.

Brian Lee Smith, 51, of Colonial Blvd., Batavia, is charged with criminal contempt, 2nd. Smith is accused of violating an order of protection by contacting the protected party via e-mail.

Dennis Andrew O'Neal, 25,of Alleghany Road, Corfu, is charged with criminal mischief, 4th. O'Neal is accused of punching holes into the drywall of a house in Corfu.

Andrew Richard Bastiano, 26, of Sumner Street, Batavia, is charged with DWI, driving with a BAC of .08 or greater and operating with inadequate lights. Bastiano was stopped at 10:59 p.m., Friday, on Townline Road, Bergen, by Deputy Jason Saile.

March 27, 2013 - 12:47pm
posted by Billie Owens in batavia, crime, Le Roy, corfu.

Lawrence Bruce Cawker, 80, of Main Road, Corfu, is charged with stalking in the 4th degree. He allegedly followed a female victim around her workplace, sent numerous cards to her, left packages at her residence, and made numerous inappropriate comments to her. According to the Sheriff's Office report, this persistent conduct continued after the defendant was repeatedly told to cease such conduct and has placed the victim in fear of her and her family's safety. He is to be arraigned at 1 p.m. on Thursday, March 25, in Le Roy Town Court.

Darcy Lynn Booth, 19, of Hill Street, Hornell, is charged with unlawful possession of alcohol and fraudulent procurement of alcohol by means of a fake ID, following a physical confrontation that reportedly occurred while at Walmart in Batavia. It is alleged that Booth was in possession of a bottle of liquor and the ID of a person over the age of 21. She was issued an appearance ticket and is to be arraigned at 1 p.m. April 29 in Batavia Town Court.

Margaret Isabel Clancy, 19, of Meadowbrook Road, Arkport, is charged with driving while intoxicated, driving with a BAC of .08 Percent or higher, and consumption of alcohol in a motor vehicle. On March 27, following the investigation of a harassment complaint that happened on Veterans Memorial Drive in the Town of Batavia, Clancy was arrested on the charges after she was allegedly involved in a physical altercation with another person while operating a motor vehicle in an allegedly intoxicated condition. She was issued an appearance ticket for Batavia Town Court and is to appear there at 1:30 p.m. on April 18.

March 26, 2013 - 3:43pm
posted by Billie Owens in crime, corfu.

A fight involving multiple subjects is reported at 77 E. Main St., east of Meadowbrook Terrace, in Corfu. Sheriff's deputies are on scene and State Troopers are en route.

UPDATE 3:44 p.m.: A deputy says things have calmed down and it's possible no charges will be pending. State Troopers are told they can back it down.

March 26, 2013 - 2:47pm
posted by Billie Owens in fire, Darien, corfu.

A working fire is reported at M&M Fabricating at 1606 Broadway Road (Route 20) in Darien. There are multiple hazards on the site of this commercial building, including a number of propane tanks which some neighbors report have exploded. The fire has already gone through the roof of the building. Darien Fire Department is responding along with mutual aid from Corfu and Alden.

UPDATE 2:50 p.m.: Mercy medics are heading to the scene in case they are needed. The location is west of Colby Road. The fire has gone to a second alarm. There have been multiple 9-1-1 calls reporting this incident.

UPDATE 2:52 p.m.: Alexander is called in along with the city's Fast Team.

UPDATE 2:56 p.m.: Fire police are told to shut down westbound traffic at routes 20 and 238.

UPDATE 3 p.m.: At the fire scene itself, Route 20 is shut down in both directions.

UPDATE 3:07 p.m.: Bennington is sending in a truck. National Grid is notified.

UPDATE 3:24 p.m.: A ladder truck from the Town of Batavia Fire Department is called to provide mutual aid.

UPDATE 3:36 p.m.: All interior crews are ordered out of the building. Sheriff's deputies are on scene, too.

UPDATE 3:35 p.m.: National Grid is on scene.

UPDATE 3:46 p.m.: Wyoming Correctional Facility inmates are enlisted to help out.

UPDATE 7:02 p.m.: Town of Batavia Fire returning, back in service.

UPDATE 8:04 p.m.: A backhoe is being brought in to start peeling back the metal roof on the building, "not to knock it in," a chief says. Monroe County Water Authority requested to the scene to shut off water to the building.

UPDATE 9:10: p.m.: Westbound Route 20 is open.

UPDATE 9:39 p.m.: Route 20 opened in both directions.

UPDATE 9:42 p.m.: All units back in service.

March 19, 2013 - 11:43pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in corfu.

By two votes, Ralph Peterson has won the mayoral election in the Village of Corfu over incumbent Todd Skeet.

Peterson and Skeet have clashed for more than a year over administration of the village court and operation of the village police department.

Peterson garnered 99 votes today and Skeet received 97 votes.

Incumbent Al Graham lost his bid for reelection as a trustee with 82 votes. David Bielec got 121 votes and Keith Busch 115.

Both Peterson, Bielec and Busch ran on the Corfu United Party. Busch also had the Democratic endorsement.

Skeet was endorsed by both Republicans and Democrats, Graham was on the GOP line.

The two incumbents were often aligned on disputes with Peterson over administration of the court and police department.

David O’Connor ran unopposed for village justice and received 136 votes.

UPDATE: Elba's results.

Remaining one-year term for Mayor:
Scott Schuler     54 Votes
Michael Welch   30 Votes
 
Remaining two-year term Trustee
Denis Rohan      64 Votes  
 
Two-year term Trustee  
Steve Hynes-Fisher  57 Votes
 
Four-year term Trustee
Raymond Hackett     65 Votes

 

March 5, 2013 - 2:16pm
posted by Billie Owens in batavia, elba, Oakfield, Le Roy, corfu, Milestones.

Elmira College has released its dean's list for Academic Acievement for the Fall 2012 term. The dean's list recognizes students that have a grade-point average of 3.6 or higher.

Alicia Hough ('13) of Elba, is majoring in Business Administration.

Megan Lowe ('13), of Le Roy, is majoring in Adolescence Education: Mathematics.

Jessica Pcionek ('15), of Oakfield, is majoring in Childhood Education and Foreign Languages French.

Amy Schmidt ('15), of Batavia, is majoring in International Studies.

Brittany Schmidt ('15), of Corfu, is majoring in History and Classical Studies.

Elmira College, located in the Finger Lakes Region of beautiful, historic Upstate New York, is one of the great small colleges of the nation. To learn more about what Elmira College has to offer, navigate to www.elmira.edu or call 800-935-6472 to schedule your visit to Elmira College.
 

February 27, 2013 - 3:58pm
posted by Billie Owens in fire, Darien, corfu.

A barn fire is reported at 1880 Sharrick Road in Darien. The location is between Harper and Colby roads. Darien fire and Mercy medics are responding, along with mutual aid from Corfu fire.

UPDATE 4:04 p.m.: First responders report heavy smoke is showing.

UPDATE 4:07 p.m.: This is a confirmed working structure fire.

UPDATE 4:09 p.m.: A tanker from Alden is responding.

UPDATE 4:19 p.m.: "Fire knocked down. Checking for extentions."

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