LOCKPORT – Niagara County lawmakers who want to know why a political mailer was sent in mass to local media organizations by a government employee through his work email address are calling for an investigative committee with subpoena power to be formed.
Members of the Democratic minority caucus said Monday they intend to submit a resolution calling on their colleagues to create a board of inquiry to examine how a re-election notice for Legislature Chairman Keith McNall, R-Lockport, ended up in a media release sent by the county's public information officer, Douglas Hoover.
The matter has already been referred to the county Department of Human Resources and, in a statement last week, McNall said he would author a resolution calling for it to be reviewed by the county Board of Ethics, a five-person body tasked with enforcing the ethics code.
Minority Leader Dennis Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, said Monday a board of inquiry remains necessary in light of the other investigations.
"It’s obvious it’s an ethics violation, but in order to get down to how this happened and to prevent this from happening again we have to have a board of inquiry," he said.
The pending resolution would mark the first time the formation of such a board was discussed in the eight-year tenure of Legislator Jason Zona, D-Niagara Falls, who was elected to lead the Niagara County Democratic Committee last year and will not seek re-election next month.
Zona said he took McNall at his word when the chairman denied any involvement in the distribution of the political material, however, Zona said he was disinclined to believe Hoover that acted on his own.
"I don’t believe Keith McNall ordered anybody to do this, but clearly there are people in this building that did, people in positions of power," he said. "That’s what we want find out."
The next legislature meeting is slated for Oct. 15 but Virtuoso has requested McNall hold a special meeting in advance.
McNall said Tuesday he was considering the minority leader's request but was uncertain he could assemble a quorum, the 8-lawmaker attendance minimum required to hold a meeting where a vote would take place.
"If it can happen, it can happen," McNall said. "We have a meeting next week anyway."
Virtuoso said Hoover's cellular phone and computer should be seized and preserved, in the event there is further investigation.
County Manager Richard Updegrove said Tuesday the equipment was secured "day one" but could not speak to who undertook the seizure.
The last board of inquiry was formed by the county in 2008. It was convened in an attempt to determine if the Niagara County coroner at that time had committed ethical, legal or lobbying violations by helping the owners of four spas tied to a prostitution ring meet potential investors and elected officials in the community.
Hoover has not responded to requests for comment since the Sept. 30 email was issued.