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Inside the Highway Investigation pt.2:

Straight Outta Benczykowski’s Mouth

 

by Chris Stevenson

Talk about Buffalo politics all you want, there’s enough drama developing in Cheektowaga to rival Dave Franczyck, Carl Paladino, Joel Giambra, Joe Mascia, the School Board, and the Buffalo Police Department.

At the recent Cheektowaga Town Hall meeting at St Aloysius Gonzaga R.C. Church 157 Cleveland Drive Cheektowaga, Town Councilwoman Diane Benczykowski and Chairman of the Town Democratic Committee, and Highway Superintendent Mark Wegner were there to field questions, with Steven Specyal moderating. Those attending seemed to echo my op-ed column on the town months ago, the meeting went on for almost two hours without so much as one person addressing Wegner about the misallocated $28,000, until I did on the very last question. Then things got heated. In their defense I get the feeling many of the attendees-older than myself-aren’t internet followers and therefore didn’t do any online reading of the Highway Scandal other than the brief TV news reports. Wegner-predictably-assumes since there won’t be any penalty then the matter is closed. Who wouldn’t? I approached him after the session he says it’s his secretary Nancy Symkowiak that’s to blame, she works for his opponent (whoever that is). Either he’s telling the truth, or she’s his flying monkey. Time will tell.

Benczykowski was in the news as of late signing her name to a letter to Governor Cuomo approving a raise to $15 per hour for fast -food workers:

Dear

Governor Cuomo,

Acting Labor Commissioner Musolino

and members of the Wage Board:

As local elected officials from across New York, we are united behind a simple yet fundamental principle:

hard work should be rewarded by fair pay. Over the past three years, we have been inspired by the brave workers who have taken to the streets in towns and cities across America, calling for $15 and a union. They have awakened the conscience of our nation to the cruel reality that the richest country on earth is increasingly scarred by vast inequality and shocking poverty.

As the New York State Department of Labor’s Wage Board conducts its important work of recommending a new minimum wage for workers in the fast food industry, we remind the Board members and Governor Andrew Cuomo of three well-­‐documented facts:

Rapidly raising the minimum wage to $15 will have tremendous positive consequences for the health, wellbeing, and dignity of tens of thousands of fast food workers and their families.

The fast food industry is incredibly profitable and fast food executives are highly compensated; the parent companies that dominate the industry can afford to pay their hardworking frontline employees a genuine living wage.

The overwhelming weight of economic evidence shows that increases in the minimum wage strengthens the economy by lifting families out of poverty, increasing aggregate demand, and reducing employee turnover. Raising the wage will not cost jobs; on the contrary, it will help us build a New York State economy of truly shared prosperity. The people of New York deserve an economy that works for all of us. From Niagara Falls to Hempstead and every place in between, too many working families are paid too little to meet their basic needs, to put food on the table, pay rent and get to work. This is the daily reality for millions of New Yorkers in the state with the greatest concentration of wealth in the nation. It must end. We urge the Wage Board and the Governor to raise the minimum wage to $15 in the fast food industry. We pledge to stand arm-­‐in-­‐arm with workers and advocates across our great state to ensure that this is just the first step: that soon we will live in a New York State where all workers earn a genuine living wage, have a voice on the job, and can raise their families in dignity and security.     

Signed, (Benczykowski’s name was on the first line of the 5th page of the attachment)

Well she got a little evasive at the 8/12 Cheektowaga Public Meeting when questioned by a Working Families Party member on her position on the

“My question’s for Ms. Benczykowski, I’m a member of a Working Families Party household, and it comes to my attention through this letter that you signed your name to the $15 an hour minimum wage for fast-food workers, and it’s something that’s important to me and I’m sure many other people. And what I’d like to know is do you support this policy?…I just wanna know if you support the policy?”

“The one that you’re talking about, the fast-food workers, no I do not. I support a living wage for all families, not just one group of fast-food workers.”

yep… there you have it folks. #AllLivesMatter, not just fastfood workers… even though that’s my name on the fast-food workers letter. I was just giving my fingers some excercise.’ lol.

I wrote before that most suburban residents don’t care about corruption with their own officials (“On Cheat-towaga”) and on that day I got a lot of that until the last few minutes or so. Let Brian Davis, Antione Thompson, Betty Jean Grant or Byron Brown misallocate Town equipment, or hourly wages and watch the furniture fly. There will be a white riot as sure as my name.

Don’t get me wrong, many of them were asking pretty meticulous questions, as far as potentially falling trees, and who will pay if it falls on somebody, high taxes vs. decreasing property values, who controls the school taxes.

By now quite a few of you have seen Wegner’s overpayment totals over a four-year-period:

2011- $4,150.50

2012- $3,269.61

2013- $11,103.84

2014- $10,067.46

By comparison the “seethroughny” website that lists town salaries, the yearly amounts reported are: 2011 $75,895, 2012 $785,63, 2013 $78,978, 2014 $80,909. People note how nothing was done after the investigation, there was however some recommendations:

“Based on the facts developed during the investigation, we recommend the following:

Compensatory Time Issue:

The Deputy Highway Superintendent should be directed to immediately cease and desist from making further claims for compensatory time (which we understand continued even during the course of the investigation). Further the Highway Department should submit both timesheets and certified hours work records for the Deputy Highway Superintendent as a condition precedent to issuance of further payroll checks to him.

The Deputy Highway Superintendent should refund the value of the “compensatory time”he has taken from January 2011 through the present time. If he declines to do so, the board may wish to consider defunding his position and taking appropriate legal action to recover these funds.”

In part-1 we examined how Wegner claims he is unfamiliar with the Highway Department’s Policy and Procedures manual in spite of being a 30-year Town employee. Wegner notes how the records show how Lumadue didn’t use any sick time or vacation time, but there is no record for how much comp time (commonly known as time coming) Lumadue used during those four years. Wegner seems to want Nancy to be his fall-girl, “That’s the way it was in the past, and that’s the way Nancy always did it. That’s what we were told, just turn in the sheet to Nancy and…”

“But sir, you’re the highway superintendent, is that correct?”

“Correct.”

“It’s your responsibility to ensure that employees are working their required time and to account for that time accurately; isn’t it sir?”

“Yes.”

“Do you see where there’s some issues here?”

“I can see where there’s some issues, but it’s… I mean, there’s a lot more time coming for him than what he uses. I mean, we’re out plowing and everything constantly.”

“Sir, how do you know that?”

“Because I have a plowing route I’m in and he’s in.”

“But once again, you don’t have a record of the time that he has accrued or the time he has used; is that correct?”

“No… well, I know the days that he’s in.”

“Sir please answer the question. You don’t have a record…”

“No.”

“And despite the fact that there is no provision in the Town of Cheektowaga rules and regulations that you are aware of to allow comp time and/or time coming to be accrued and used, you’ve signed off on weekly time sheets for Mr. Lumadue since he started with your department in actually 2010…”

“Correct.”

“Til today; is that correct, sir?”

“Correct.”

The question about the use of Town equipment and whom was granted permission to use them is examined:

Mike Lumadue- Bobcat (even though Vito states Lumadue denies knowing how to operate a Bobcat)

Darryl Stachura- Dump Truck (during the Chris Kowal tenure)

James Rogowski- Dump Truck (during Dennis Gabryszak tenure). Rogowski, a Town Councilman disclosed to me weeks ago this was a lie. We will go into more detail about this in part-3.

Rogowski’s cousin- Stump Grinder

What seems to be commonly accepted is they (Town employees) dropped off equipment according to Wegner, “at the end of the day.” During a time and date not specified, still using Town gas, with no reimbursement to that employee’s residence after being pulled by a Town vehicle while on Town trailer, possibly without insurance (in the case of Stachura). “Do Town of Cheektowaga rules and regulations allow employees to use Town-owned equipment for their personal use?”

“I… I don’t know that,” replied Wegner once again.

“How long have you been employed by the Town?”

“30 years.”

In the meantime the hits just keep on coming in Cheektowaga, sometimes literally. I was made aware of a little-known  nasty situation that ensued earlier this week regarding the family member of one of the candidates. Dave Weircioc, the brother of Linda Hammer, a candidate for Town Council allegedly attacked Jamie Kamanski, the son of Jerry Kamanski with a pipe while he was holding a newborn child. Another source told me this took place while Jerry’s daughter was having a garage sale. Not to mention the case of three women having filed complaints against a Cheektowaga judge from the time he was a town prosecutor; Paul Piotrowski, for sexual, physical and verbal harassment her. Mary Ann Szczepanowski, Kim Chojnicki,  and senior court clerk, Stephanie Lewandowski. This began in 2010 when a Town employee went to Lewandowski to complain of sexual harassment by Piotrowski whom was a prosecutor at the time. According to WGRZ “Lewandowski then took that complaint to the town’s Human Resources director.” You know how these things work, in Piotrowski’s eyes she should have taken the complaint straight to the paper-shredder. While most of these are unrelated to the highway department, they reveal various disturbing mindsets in public officials that don’t serve their community well at all.

Contact Stevenson through email at pointblankdta@yahoo.com, or Twitter @pointblank009 or @buffalo_bullet

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