Niagara County sig

Niagara County Courthouse in Lockport

LOCKPORT – Niagara County Legislature's public information officer role has been the subject of controversy in recent months, but the tentative budget proposal now before lawmakers suggests a substantial raise for the position. 

Budget documents submitted by County Manager Richard Updegrove earlier in this month propose the PIO, who functions as a spokesman for county government, receive a $79,003 salary – a 13.5-percent increase over last year's adopted annual take home of $69,596.

Doulgas Hoover has held the PIO role since last year. Hoover was the second person to ever hold the position, which was created in 2008 and held by Christian Peck until his resignation in 2018. Peck's final salary was $71,843.

Hoover reportedly faced discipline this year after a sitting lawmaker's campaign promotion was distributed from a government computer and Hoover's email address, according to Chairman Keith McNall, R-Lockport, who was the subject of the Sept. 30 political notice.

The nature of the discipline was never disclosed. It was a rare public statement about the matter for McNall, who has spoken little about the incident outside calling it "strictly prohibited" and denying involvement.

The legislature unanimously passed a resolution sponsored by McNall earlier this year that referred the incident to the Niagara County Board of Ethics for review.

The board is empowered to assign penalties for violations of the Code of Ethics, codified in a local law, including termination and civil fines, or could dismiss the complaint on its face.

It is unclear whether Hoover will stay on in the role. He would not say on Friday whether he would serve as the  public information officer next year. 

"I’m unable to speak about it at this time," he said. 

Minority Leader Dennis Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, said Friday he would continue his annual call to eliminate the PIO position, which he has previously criticized a patronage position that functions at the benefit of the Republican majority. 

Virtuoso called the raise "ridiculous" in light of the 2 percent annual raises expected in non-political positions.

"He was incompetent this year," Virtuoso said. "We’re going to reward incompetence with a raise?"

The vast majority of Hoover's press advisories and releases have either directly quoted or mentioned members of the GOP. Of the nearly 70 communications Hoover has sent the Niagara Gazette in his tenure, two have quoted Democrats.

Virtuoso said he would not refer the election matter to law enforcement until the ethics board had a chance to review, but would consider writing a complaint to the Niagara County District Attorney's Office afterward. 

The proposed financial plan will likely be changed over in the coming weeks as budget hearings take place. Lawmakers will have a chance to evaluate Virtuoso's continued suggestion the post be eliminated, among a variety of other measures.

At 6:50 p.m. in legislative chambers, 175 Hawley St., on Dec. 3 lawmakers are scheduled to hold public hearing allowing county residents to weigh in on the budget.

Updegrove did not return a request for comment. Majority Leader Randy Bradt, R-North Tonawanda, has said a review by the Board of Ethics is the "right protocol," but did not return a request for comment concerning the raise on Friday.

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