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State AG asked to investigate NT Republican council members

North Tonawanda Common Council members
North Tonawanda
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Top: Luke Brown (Attorney), Frank DiBernardo (2nd Ward), Eric Zadzilka (3rd Ward) and Robert Pecoraro (Alderman-at-Large who lost in the mayor's race). Bottom: Austin Tylec (Alderman-at-Large who won the mayor's race), Donna Braun (Clerk/Treasurer), Arthur Pappas (Mayor) and Robert Schmigel (1st Ward).

The mayoral election in North Tonawanda was an old-fashioned neighborhood fight from the beginning, with the Republican Common Council president and the Democratic alderman member squared off for a vacant mayoral chair. Now, it's getting nasty.

Alderman Austin Tylec, the Democrat, beat Council President Bob Pecoraro, the Republican. What happened next is bringing a call for an investigation by State Attorney General Tish James.

The background is an alleged secret meeting of Council members last summer on a date no one can remember and without meeting minutes deciding to get rid of the budget line for the mayor's secretary. That cut was approved after Tylec won.

"It is — and they readily admit it — that they had a back room, closed-door discussion and they saw nothing wrong with that, which was kind of amazing in this day and age," said New York Coalition for Open Government President Paul Wolf. "But I guess that old culture and old habits die hard, and so all we can do is keep pushing for more sunshine."

James is to investigate a potential violation of the state's Open Meetings Law by the four Republicans on the Council. Wolf was derisive.

"Unfortunately, it just appears to be purely political and why would the change happen the day after an election when one candidate won and one candidate lost," he said. "It's just not a good way to conduct public business, to have it seem kind of revenge-based, done behind closed doors."

At the time of the formal budget vote on Monday, citizens weren't allowed to comment.

"It's a very contentious meeting when I went there," said Wolf. "A lot of snipping and bickering and just not very professional in a lot of ways, which is unfortunate. You hear a lot of complaints and discussions about how the public behaves at meetings. But the way the North Tonawanda City Council members behaved at that meeting, I think is pretty outrageous."

The request to the AG for an investigation came from State Assemblymember Bill Conrad, whose district includes North Tonawanda, and is asking for the Public Integrity Bureau to probe the events, events which occurred before Tylec has even become mayor.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.