Niagara Gazette

May 6, 2013

Community Center suit loses plaintiff

By Mark Scheer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — One of two city residents identified as plaintiffs in a legal proceeding tied to a long-shuttered North End community center now says she had no interest in participating in the lawsuit and never has. 

Patricia Alston, identified as a plaintiff in a claim filed last month in state supreme court, said she does not support pending legal action against six members of the Niagara Community Center Association of Niagara Falls, New York, Inc. She also maintains that she never supported the effort to dissolve the association and its board, even back in March when she signed paperwork allowing legal proceedings to move forward. 

Alston now contends that she signed documents verifying the legal petition without fully understanding what it was she was signing, maintaining that they were not fully explained to her by the plaintiffs’ attorney, Robert Restaino. 

“I feel like I’ve been used and I don’t appreciate it,” said Alston. “I would not have put in for a lawsuit against anyone.

“There should be a way we can come together and work this thing out without going to court.”

Multiple telephone calls over the course of several days seeking comment from Restaino were not returned. 

The community center, located on Centre Avenue in the North End, has been closed to the public since 2008. The facility, which for years offered educational and recreational programs, primarily to youth in the neighborhood, was operated by the nonprofit association which is controlled by a board comprised of city residents. Since the building was closed and later condemned, several local pastors and residents have strongly encouraged board members to either take steps to re-open the facility or step down so others could take charge. 

Members of the current board — six of which are named as defendants in the case — say they continue to work on plans for re-opening the facility, including efforts to raise funds needed to install new, more energy efficient heating and cooling systems. 

Documents filed with state supreme court in Niagara County on April 18 identified Alston and the Rev. Charles Searcy as plaintiffs in the pending court case which aims to dissolve the current association on the basis that its board members have “wasted the corporate assets,” including the Centre Avenue building where the community center was located for years. 

The documents were verified with signatures by both Searcy and Alston, indicating that they had “read the foregoing petition” and knew “the contents thereof.” The section identified as “client verification” is signed by both individuals as well, “under penalty of perjury.”

During an interview, Alston said she believed signing the paperwork would relieve her of any responsibility for the association, not involve her in a lawsuit against the majority of its board members.

She also insists she has had no formal dealings with the association’s board in at least a year, adding that she does not consider herself to be a member in good standing at this time, as is indicated on the petition itself. 

“When I signed those papers, I had no idea that I was going to sue somebody,” she said. 

When reached by telephone, Searcy, assistant pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, said he understood that by signing the paperwork he would be a plaintiff in the case. He said that while he favored all parties coming together to resolve their differences, he supports the legal proceedings, believing they will help accomplish his ultimate goal which is to reopen the center. 

“I have no interest in running the center, taking it from anyone,” Searcy said. “I just want the center open.

“If this lawsuit will help it get done quicker, I’m all for it.” 

A hearing on the matter is set for May 16 in state supreme court.