Niagara Gazette — Steve Reiter and Ernie Palmer are friends. They’re currently serving on the Lewiston Town Board, with Reiter supervisor and Palmer a councilman.
Come Tuesday, Palmer will look to move one step closer to taking Reiter’s position when the two face off against each other as registered Republicans in the town and village of Lewiston decide in a primary election to pick their candidate for the town’s chief administrator.
“As former police chief and commander in both Niagara Falls and Youngstown, I have 30 years of experience managing personnel and handling critical incidents,” Palmer said. “I have been a Town Board member for almost seven years and have created, managed and worked within municipal budgets in various forms throughout my career. I also own and operate an independent accounting firm and I am currently enrolled to practice and represent taxpayers before the Internal Revenue Service. So I believe my management and financial experience makes me uniquely qualified to lead Lewiston going forward.”
Palmer, who received the endorsement of the Niagara County Republicans last month, said the town board’s efforts over the last several years, many led by Reiter’s administration, have been valiant. He praised the board’s abilities in budget preparation, fiscal accountability and level of services provided.
But pleasing everyone is difficult, he said. Case in point, there’s an increasing number of complaints of drainage problems throughout the town, of which he said he’d like to see solutions.
Palmer also would like to see equipment the town owns put on a replacement schedule. It’s a touchy issue, especially at the town’s highway department garage, where Highway Superintendent Doug Janese needed to borrow money this year to replace a pair of trucks both older than 20 years.
“Satisfying everyone is a difficult proposition, but for the most part, we have enjoyed great success in achieving this for the past several years,” he said. “Can we do better? We can always do better. Priorities change and tough decisions have to be made.”
Palmer, who’s married to his wife, Michelle, and has five adult daughters and three grandchildren, is also well aware of what his background would mean to stabilizing a town government which endured a harsh audit by the New York State Comptroller’s Office in 2011. Examined was, among other things, the town’s handling of municipal fuel supplies and “questionable” drainage repairs performed by the highway department during the audit period between Jan. 1, 2009 and March 18, 2011.
It’s believed a recent visit to town hall by members of the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the state Attorney General’s Office are related and focusing on Reiter in particular.
In backing Palmer, the county Republicans said his background as a police chief would help the town move past the consequences stemming from the original report.
But Reiter believes the stories of the investigation are merely a smear tactic. The retired lieutenant colonel in the United States Marine Corps believes the local politics spearheading the campaign against him are just stories. Instead, the supervisor, looking for his third, two-year term in office, said he’s the best man for the job because he’s free from the political bosses influencing decisions.
“I’m the best candidate, Republican or Democrat, because i refuse to get mired in the local politics,” he said. “I am who I am, my experience and dedication sets me apart. I’m ‘in the trenches’ in Lewiston, I know the people and their concerns. I know where to go for answers and solutions. I was born - raised here- Lewiston is in my blood.”
While the town is dealing with the federal investigation hanging over the elections this year, Reiter is asking residents to also think of the benefits he’s accomplished while in office. Successes like providing both town and village residents with discounts on water bills, which he said would “continue with proper budgeting.”
He’s also happy with the town’s financial outlook, he said. After taking office, he said, the town’s fund balance has increased by 20 percent, increasing from $5 million in savings in 2009 to $6 million in 2012.
(Editor’s Note: Of the $6 million in town savings, much is either locked up in restricted accounts, such as $2.3 million in the master sewer improvement fund, or appropriated towards covering unbudgeted costs.)
“I’ve been a part of the Town of Lewiston for 30 years,” Reiter said. “I’ve worked in just about every department. I know this town like the back of my hand.
“I’m looking for an opportunity to lead the town for a third term. I pledge to the residents that I will remain an independent voice in the supervisor’s office, free from political bosses, free from obligations and entanglements and free to look out for the best interests of the taxpayers.”
Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251, or follow on Twitter @timchipp.