The purge of top staff at the Niagara Falls Water Board continued Monday night at a meeting that exploded with charges of racism leveled by a board member.
The board, on a 3-2 vote, approved a resolution that directed that the employment contract of the agency's director of financial services, Kendra Walker, be allowed to lapse on March 31, effectively terminating her employment.
Board Chairman Patrick Brown and Members Nick Forester and Colleen Larkin voted to let the contract lapse. Members Renae Kimble and Gretchen Leffler opposed the move.
Walker's dismissal follows the mid-December resignation of the Water Board's executive director, Patrick Fama. Sources close to Fama have said his resignation was tied to deep disagreements with Brown and Forester.
As the votes were tallied on the non-renewal of Walker's contract, Kimble, the longest serving member of the board, unleashed a sharp rebuke of the action.
"Looking at this particular situation, to be frank, I have to look at the past," Kimble said.
She said that despite comments from Forester, claiming that the board was seeking to do away with employment contracts, it has recently approved contracts for acting Executive Director and General Counsel Sean Costello, Director of Technical and Regulatory Services Doug Williamson, Superintendent of Operations Bill Wright and Confidential Secretary Erica Schroeder.
Schroeder is Forester's niece.
Kimble noted all of those contracts were extended without any performance evaluations by the board.
"So what's different between their contracts and Mrs. Walker's contract?" Kimble asked rhetorically. "All of those employees are white. And Mrs. Walker is black. It's a clear case of employment discrimination based on race."
But Kimble didn't stop there. She appeared to take aim at Forester and Brown.
Forester was reappointed to the board in January by Mayor Robert Restaino. Brown was newly appointed in January by the members of the Falls City Council, with Councilman William Kennedy opposing Brown's appointment.
"People have told me that it was the purpose of a certain new board member to 'get' Mrs. Walker and there was nothing Renae Kimble can do about it," Kimble said during the meeting.
Kimble said members of the Falls City Council had also been contacted about what she described as "racist comments" on Brown's Facebook page and made reference to an apparently inappropriate meme on the page that featured "Aunt Jemima."
"For (the council) to know this and not do anything," Kimble said, "shame on them."
City Council Chair Kenny Tompkins confirmed Monday night that council members had received an email from the local chapter of the NAACP charging that Brown had made racist comments on his Facebook page. But Tompkins said the council continues to back Brown.
"We do not see Mr. Brown as a racist," Tompkins said. "The post (the NAACP) sent us seemed like a normal pro-Trump Facebook post. The majority of the council feels that Mr. Brown is doing exactly what we hoped he would do. That's be a fiscal watchdog."
Brown said nothing about the charges during the board meeting. He did not immediately reply to an email sent after the meeting seeking comment.