Niagara Gazette

November 13, 2012

County refuse director remains under investigation

By Joyce M. Miles
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Niagara County Manager Jeffrey Glatz remained tight-lipped Tuesday about what's driving an investigation of the county refuse disposal district director.

Richard Pope of Lockport, the district director for 19 years, was put on paid administrative leave at the beginning of this month while "allegations (regarding) operation of the refuse district" are investigated, Glatz said after a closed-door meeting of the district administrative board Tuesday evening. The executive session concerned an unspecified "personnel" matter, according to board chairman and county Legislator John Syracuse, R-Newfane.

Glatz declined to articulate the specific allegation against Pope, or say who made it. He did say the complaint is being examined by himself and the county atttorney's office, not local law enforcement.

Various Republican affiliates have reported that a fellow county employee supposedly accused Pope of keeping two sets of books for the district. Glatz refused to confirm or deny that's the accusation.

Pope could not be reached to comment on the matter late Tuesday.

Glatz said the county received a signed complaint about Pope before the Oct. 22 meeting of the refuse board, when Glatz and Pope clashed openly on the possible early closing of the county-run construction/demolition landfill off the Lockport Bypass.

Glatz had brought in an engineering consultant to estimate the time and expenses associated with closing the still-active landfill, and he and Pope argued about whether the landfill — which a prior report indicated has up to five years of "life" left in it — is making or costing the county money. Pope insisted the landfill raises over $200,000 in annual revenue after operating expenses, and that profit is helping hold down the county refuse tax rate.

After that meeting, some Democrats suggested Glatz is pushing for an early landfill closing to benefit Modern Corporation, which also operates a C&D landfill. Follow the money — meaning Modern's campaign donations to Republican office-seekers — they said.

Glatz asserted the investigation of Pope "has nothing to do with budget issues ... or disagreements that Rick and I had," and he flatly denied the county would pull the plug on a money-maker to aid Modern.

"It's a complete fabrication and lie," he said.

Glatz said again that he sought an engineer's estimate on C&D landfill closing costs partly to have the information well ahead of it being filled to legal capacity. Once it's full, the engineering consultant said last month, capping it will cost over $1 million. Afterward, the county will be on the hook for costs of monitoring it for 30 years, per state law.

The refuse district levies a tax to pay the expenses of monitoring three other closed landfills in the county; Pope said last month that the monitoring cost is about $300,000 a year per landfill — and that profits from operating the C&D landfill are helping absorb some of that expense.

Glatz said he's still recommending early closure of the C&D landfill, but a final decision will rest with the refuse district board, not him.

The board is composed entirely of county legislators: Syracuse; Peter Smolinski, R-North Tonawanda; Clyde Burmaster, R-Ransomville; Michael Hill, R-Hartland; Keith McNall, R-Lockport; Tony Nemi, I-Lockport; Bill Ross, C-Wheatfield; Rick Updegrove, R-Lockport; Paul Wojtaszek, R-North Tonawanda; Owen Steed, D-Niagara Falls; and Jason Zona, D-Niagara Falls.