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Voters cool to Hamburg rink plan

   There were just over 2,100 people voting in the referendum Tuesday that rejected the expansion of the Hamburg ice rink Tuesday.

   A positive vote would have resulted in the town leasing the facility to a private company to renovate the existing rink, add another ice pad and field house, as well as manage the facility.

   Some residents said this isn't the right time economically to undertake the project.

   Town Supervisor Steven J. Walters said maybe residents weren't happy with the scope of the project, or thought it was too ambitious.

   Jeff Walker of Leaping Sports Facility Management, the company that made the proposal, said he was surprised at the outcome. He said the soccer, lacrosse and hockey parents didn't come out to vote.

   So if hockey parents didn't vote, who did in the town of 56,000, and why did 59 percent of them turn it down?

   --- Barbara O'Brien


Highway robbery ... and other crimes

   Maybe it's just a coincidence that for the second year in a row, a town highway superintendent in Erie County is in trouble with the law.

   Both times, the allegation was that the official was using his office for his own benefit or for the benefit of some purpose other than for the good of the whole town.

   In my column today, former Amherst Highway Superintendent Patrick Lucey offers a theory as to why this has happened. Lucey also argues that the current system of electing people to this job makes them more accountable to voters.

   The other side of that argument is that the Town Board has less control over the office than if it were an appointed position.

    Does two highway superintendents in trouble constitute a trend? And would changing the job from elected to appointed make a difference?

   --- Bruce Andriatch 

Would you care to hear a comment?

   If you live long enough, you hear so many strange things that you wonder if anything will ever surprise you again.

   Then you hear that a high school principal was caught - "red-handed"  is the term police used - stealing money from the school safe and after being confronted with photographic evidence, she resigns.

   The story of LuAnn Ostanski at Kenmore East is well-known by now. In my column today, I try to make the case that district officials owe the community an explanation. Maybe legal concerns prevent them from providing every detail, or saying everything they know, but I believe the paid leaders of the school system need to say something. Even "We were just as shocked as you were and we're going to get to the bottom of this" would be nice to hear.

   Instead, the school superintendent will not even come to the phone. In response to one of the more bizarre crimes that has happened in a long time, residents got a prepared statement — which said nothing — and then silence for going on one week.

   You pay the salaries of the people who run the public schools. Do you want to hear from them when something goes very wrong in one of those schools? Or do you accept that they should say nothing about situations like this one?

  — Bruce Andriatch


One and done for Travers Murphy

   You can tell Mary Travers Murphy likes what she is doing as supervisor of Orchard Park. Constituent work is very similar to her former job as a consumer reporter for WKBW-TV.

   She wasn't unfamiliar with politics when she ran for supervisor in 2005. Her late  father-in-law was Democratic Assemblyman Matthew J. Murphy Jr., who represented the Lockport area for 18 years.

   And she doesn't seem like one to back away from a fight. But it's the political part of the job that made her decide not to run for re-election.

   "The thought of having to raise the tens of thousands of dollars necessary to respond to such dirty politicking, not to mention the time and energy that would distract me from my duties as supervisor, holds no appeal," she said.

   With voters crying out for change, is it more than the faces of those running for public office that need to change?

   --- Barbara O'Brien


Round and round

   The roundabouts and traffic calming plan in Hamburg are working; there have been far fewer accidents since six traffic signals were replaced with four roundabouts.

   A traffic study of Buffalo and Main streets (Route 62) in the Village of Hamburg showed the number of accidents dropped by 63 percent since October, compared to the number before construction started.

   I heard a lot of people a few years ago wondering why the roundabouts were chosen. Today, some of the biggest skeptics have been won over by how quick and easy they are to navigate.

   What do you think of them? Have you seen anyone stop in the middle of one of them? How long do you have to wait to get through the intersection? Have you seen any accidents?

   --- Barbara O'Brien

Lancaster Highway Department in the news

On June 19, 2007, this story about the Lancaster Highway Department ran in The Buffalo News:

 "Town of Lancaster officials wrongly gave a $60,000 chief job in the town Highway Department to someone in a politically connected family last summer, according to union leaders.....  In order to comply with an arbitrator's finding against the town for its hiring decision, the Town Board voted Monday to create another, new crew chief position at the same salary.  

 " Terri Hoffmann, labor relations specialist for Local 815, Civil Service Employees Association, said the upshot is that the Highway Department now has four crew chiefs, instead of three, with each chief now supervising fewer than six employees.  

 "  "So now we've got four working crew chiefs making 60 grand a year, plus a highway superintendent," she said.

 " Town Attorney Richard Sherwood strongly disagreed with Hoffmann's and others' characterizations of the situation, saying the town made an honest mistake and was forced to create the new position because Civil Service rules prevent the town from demoting the man they originally hired to fill the post.     ....

  "   Last summer, Highway Superintendent Richard Reese hired Daniel Latello to fill a working crew chief vacancy. Latello is the brother of the owner of Fireside Inn on Central Avenue, Hoffmann said, and had far less experience than other candidates. 

"   He was also hired out of blue-collar union ranks, even though the job was categorized as a white-collar union position at the time. 

 "   The arbitrator stated that John Smith, a former construction inspector, should have been given the job. Monday, the town created a new crew chief position so that both Smith and Latello could be accommodated, even though it is unclear whether the Highway Department has any need for an additional chief."

   The FBI has not yet released information about its arrest today of  the highway superintendent.