Niagara Gazette

August 27, 2013

Niagara Town Board updated on Fashion Outlets expansion; pays disputed legal bills

By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — TOWN OF NIAGARA — Progress is being made on the proposed expansion of the Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls. Slow progress, but progress none-the-less.

Supervisor Steve Richards said he met with representatives of Macerich, the company who owns the Military Road shopping center, Stantech Consulting Services, Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, and a representative of the state Department of Transportation about the ongoing traffic study the expansion requires.

"Things like this take a long time to review," Richards said after a special Niagara Town Board meeting Monday. "This will help make sure the mall (expansion) doesn't have any negative impacts on the community."

The $71 million expansion of the mall has been tabled by the town board since April as officials for the town await the completion of a state environmental quality review, which incorporates the traffic study to ensure all impacts on the local community are accounted for.

Macerich is handling the SEQR, which, once completed, could allow the town to approve a site plan for the project. Richards said he's optimistic the documentation could be ready in time for the board's next regular meeting, scheduled for Sept. 17.

"Projects this size don't get approved in one day," Richards said. "It's a long process. There's a lot to the SEQR."

Monday's meeting was called in order to finish up some unfinished business missed at its meeting last week Tuesday. Following a lengthy argument between Richards and Councilman Rob Clark, after Clark questioned bills submitted for payment by Town Attorney Michael Risman. With the heated conversation, which got off-track multiple times, ending without a resolution, none of the town's outstanding bills were paid, Risman's included.

"In the confusion, we didn't pay (the bills)," Richards said. "It just got overlooked."

When asked to cast his vote on the matter Monday, Clark paused significantly before agreeing to pay.

Clark initially questioned the bills submitted by Risman because, he said, it appeared the town's attorney was charging the town, among other things, to contact Richards' personal attorney concerning a matter involving the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

It was a shocking moment, as Risman revealed the name of an employee who filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the town in open meeting. He said his bills all stem to investigating the case in the interest of the town.

"We were representing the town's interest and doing an investigation," Risman said last week. "I represent the town as a legal entity. Mr. Richards has his own lawyer. I'm not advising Mr. Richards on personal matters. He has his own counsel. I have no specific recollection of talking to his attorney."

Richards also had a say, defending the attorney's bills and the decision to have Risman notify his own counsel at the dime of the taxpayers.

"Why are we spending town money, whether it's tax raised or from sales revenue ...on these subjects?" Clark asked.

"Because some scumbag here in this workforce called the FBI and said I made the girl do that stuff," Richards said. "He notified my attorney to let him know some scumbag was falsely accusing me."

Clark said he agreed to pay the bills because the arguments Tuesday were enough for him.

"We had it out the other night," he said. "I will stand by what I said. And if I see one more bill for FBI submitted by (Risman), I'm filing ethics charges ..."

Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.