NIAGARA, N.Y. (WIVB) - Lawmakers are fighting for the integrity of the Niagara Town Board just one week after its supervisor was indicted on public corruption charges.
Despite the charges against him, Steven Richards was at Thursday night's board meeting, but his future with the board remains uncertain. Some board members question whether the allegations against Richards are grounds for his removal from office, or at least placing him on administrative leave as the court case moves forward.
Last week, on the eve of being arraigned on 28 charges including fraud, grand larceny and official misconduct, Richards had fiery words for fellow board members and asserted his innocence. Now that he's facing charges, Richards was much more subdued for Thursday night's meeting.
"As allegations go, they need to be proven in court. Now, I said many times, I look forward to my day in court, and I am. But for any other comments from me, I'll be referring to my attorney, Rodney Personius," Richards said. "That's it. You'll never hear me speak of it again."
Board members asked town attorney Michael Risman what action they should take while the court case against Richards plays out.
"The long and short of it is that if Mr. Richards is convicted of either felony or a crime involving a violation of his oath of office, there would be no further proceeding. He would vacate the office by operation of law," Risman explained.
Board member Rob Clark asked the town attorney to now get an advisory opinion in writing from the State Attorney General's Office.
Clark said, "When the public asks us, 'Should he or should he not be on administrative leave?' We can say, 'Look, we did our due diligence.' At the end of the day, this is mostly a concern for the integrity of the town."
But that idea isn't necessarily sitting well with everyone on the board.
"If they filed charges already against the supervisor, they've already made a determination in terms of what direction they're going to go. So why would we ask there opinion?" questioned board member Danny Sklarski.
The other option town leaders have is to consult with the Town of Niagara's own ethics board, but board member Charles Teixeira is concerned about bias. Teixeira says one of the members of the ethics board wrote an op-ed in the Niagara Gazette, and he's worried about that opinion being publicized before the case has ended.
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