Niagara Gazette

May 21, 2013

Funeral director is named county coroner

By Joyce M. Miles
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Lockport resident Michael A. Ross was appointed as a Niagara County coroner Tuesday.

Ross, a co-owner of the family-held Hamilton & Clark Funeral Home in Wilson and the Ross Funeral Home, Gaul Chapel, in Lockport, will serve as coroner for the fourth district through Dec. 31.

He'll run for election to the four-year position this year as well, on the Republican line, he said.

Ross was appointed in place of Richard Rutland, the Newfane funeral director who quit the coroner's post last month for personal reasons.

His appointment was confirmed by a 12-0 vote of Niagara County legislators, on a recommendation from a special hiring committee that interviewed four top applicants last week.

The job of coroners is to examine, identify and arrange transportation of bodies when there's been a death that's violent, suspicious or unattended. Coroners do not perform autopsies.

Ross, a third-generation funeral director with family roots in Akron, Gasport and Wilson, said he views the coroner's post as a "position of public trust."

"It's about making sure things get done in a timely fashion, for the families (of deceased persons) and funeral directors. It's something that goes hand-in-hand with funeral direction, and it's serving our community in a big way," he said.

The fourth district is composed of the towns of Newfane, Cambria, Wilson, Lewiston, Porter and Niagara. Coroners do not have to reside in the district they're covering.

In other business Tuesday, on an 8-4 vote, county lawmakers OK'd a "feel good" resolution inviting the Buffalo Bills to consider downtown Niagara Falls as a new home base in the future.

Co-author Jason Zona, D-Niagara Falls, said the resolution is in response to a news report several months ago suggesting Niagara Falls as an alternative to the Bills organization someday eyeing Toronto, where the team is now playing one "home" game per year. Sports fans worry that once team owner Ralph Wilson dies, the temptation for succeeding owner(s) to sell or relocate the franchise will be great.

The Falls' representatives' resolution makes no mention of Erie County, which recently got the Bills to sign on for seven more years at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park. After amendment live on the floor Tuesday night, after lawmaker Peter Smolinski, R-North Tonawanda, raised an objection, it also makes no specific mention of a stadium being built in Niagara Falls.

The lack of verbiage in the resolution to soothe neighboring Erie County was viewed as problematic by several Republican legislators.

Clyde Burmaster of Ransomville told a quick story about the Niagara legislature passing a sentimental resolution regarding the Buffalo Zoo being welcome here, in the late 1990s when the zoo had troubles with Erie County, and particular "feathers being ruffled" as a result. He said he worries the Bills resolution could ruin the "good will" built between counties since then.

In the end, Burmaster voted for the resolution, but John Syracuse of Newfane did not, because, he said, it would needlessly offend a neighbor and regional partner. "We do enough of these feel-good resolutions," he added.

Also voting "no" were Majority Caucus Leader Rick Updegrove of Lockport and legislators Mike Hill, R-Hartland, and Tony Nemi, I-Lockport.

The intent of the resolution isn't to try luring the Bills away from Erie County, it's stating a wish to see the Bills stay in Western New York after 2020, Zona said.

"This is just a symbolic resolution, we don't want to lose our football team," he said.

Of the votes against it, Zona added, "It's just their usual grandstanding. It's politics. I've come to expect that."