CHEEKTOWAGA, NY - "We might sound like instigators or pains in the butt...but this is what people need to see," said Dave Uzar, as he sat sipping coffee at Ron Lorek’s dining room table in Lorek’s Cheektowaga home.
The two men are regulars at town board meetings, often raising questions about town government, expenses, and hiring practices.
“I can’t say that on camera,” quipped Lorek, when asked to describe his feelings about the hiring of disgraced former town councilman Charlie Markel as the new Assistant Highway Superintendent.
In 2014, Markel plead guilty to a misdemeanor for unlawfully claiming unemployment benefits, by falsely certifying he was totally unemployed while drawing a salary for being a town councilman.
He paid over $7,000 in restitution and was forced to step down from his post.
On Monday he began his new job with the Highway Department at an annual salary of more than $85,000.
“What does he know about sewers, highways, blacktop, or concrete?” asked Uzar. “What does he know about anything to do with the highway department?"
Markel’s hiring was at the sole discretion of the town’s elected Highway Superintendent Mark Wegner.
Wegner returned our call seeking information about the hiring, but politely declined our request for an on camera interview.
During that call, however, he told us he was impressed with Markel's work as a councilman to combat zombie homes.
When we asked what - if anything - that had to do with being the Deputy Highway Superintendent, Wegner told us that Markel also gained valuable experience from the job he landed after being booted from the town board, as a utility worker for the Erie County Water Authority, where Markel worked for two years.
“This guy worked in the ditches, and gained a great knowledge about infrastructure working for the Water Authority," said Wegner, who also suggested any objection to the hiring of Markel was largely being ginned up by political opponents.
"You know, my son works at Wegmans and he works in the fish department...maybe that qualifies him to operate one of those crab boats,” mused Uzar.
At Cheektowaga Town Hall, we were told by and assistant to Supervisor Diane Benczkowski that she was too busy to speak with us on Monday.
Even though the town board has nothing to do with the hiring of Markel, Benczkowski told the Cheektowaga Chronicle, when it first reported Markel's hiring, that she was impressed by the experience Markel gained from another job he once held; as a manager of a local food market because it “solidified his leadership experience”.
“Experience as a manager of a local food market?” Uzar asked incredulously. “Stocking shelves and slicing baloney?" added Lorek.
When asked if it was their contention that the shelves of government were being stocked with patronage, Uzar replied, “That’s a good way to put it.”
Markel did not return calls and messages for comment.