061031 Ernest Palmer - NG

James Neiss/staff photographer Niagara Falls, NY - Ernest Palmer, candidate for one year term on the Lewiston Town Board.

A town councilman with law enforcement experience said he briefly expressed interest in succeeding retiring Lewiston Police Chief Ronald Winkley.

Councilman Ernest Palmer, a detective captain with the Niagara Falls Police Department and former chief of both the Falls and Youngstown Police, said there were some discussions that took place with a few members of the Town Board but that he was never a legitimate candidate.

“There was obviously no offer made by the Town or the Village Board or the police commission,” Palmer said. “I decided not to pursue this because I have both personal and professional relationships with all candidates for the position.

“I have the utmost respect for all of them. I didn’t feel it was fair to them to interfere with process,” Palmer said.

A proposal had been made to change the job to a part-time position, a move that would have saved close to $30,000, town officials said.

But at least some opposition was raised by village leaders.

“We’re a full-time department. We can’t have a part-time chief,” said Village Mayor Richard Soluri, who occupies one of the three seats on the Lewiston Police Commission.

Officials said they plan to interview the three candidates for chief — each currently a full-time employee of the Lewiston department — soon.

Officer John Penzotti, Sgt. Frank Previte and Officer Christopher Salada have each taken the civil service test for the position, according to municipal leaders.

Winkley, who has accepted a teaching position at Niagara University and has been endorsed by Republicans to run for supervisor this fall, will serve his last day as police chief on Friday.

Lewiston Town Supervisor Fred Newlin said Palmer told him the part-time position as chief could be a “good fit” for him.

Newlin said officials checked with the Niagara County Civil Service Department which told them the job could still retain civil service designation if it changed to part time. Officials estimated a savings of nearly $30,000, considering the current chief’s salary of $67,000 with benefits worth another $20,000, Newlin said.

Newlin, along with F. Robert S’dao, fill out the remaining police commission seats.

Councilman Michael Johnson said the proposal was solid enough that town officials decided to look into it, but that’s as far as the proposal went.

“It never got anywhere because Ernie withdrew his name the next morning after that meeting, and so we’re back to square one,” Johnson said.

Soluri said he believes the three in-house candidates deserve the opportunity to move up in the department. Municipal leaders will have to find other ways to save money, the mayor added.

The three remaining candidates are “qualified and deserving,” Soluri said.

“I made it pretty clear to (Palmer) and to the Town Board that I just didn’t care for this last-minute maneuvering,” he said.

Contact reporter Aaron Besecker at 282-2311, ext. 2263.