CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. — Following a 2 On Your Side report on Tuesday about the Cheektowaga Town Highway Department and a private project, Town Attorney John Dudziak has told 2 on Your Side on Wednesday that the Erie County District Attorney's office has assigned a prosecutor to investigate the use of town equipment and staffers.
Dudziak also tells us that the district attorney will also look to determine if there was any alleged harassment of town employees by a supervisor in the Town Highway Department.
Channel 2 spoke with the town's elected highway superintendent before we learned of the district attorney's involvement. Here are superintendent Mark Wegner's rather surprising responses to our tough questions.
On Tuesday we showed pictures of a town of Cheektowaga highway worker in a town bucket truck fixing a rope and attaching a light on a flagpole on private property. That is now raising questions for the highway superintendent, who says he told the property owner, "I said, 'Our truck is done, but as soon as it's fixed, we'll send a crew over jut to put it back up for you.' I don't see a problem with that, and then all hell broke loose."
It broke loose as the union representing town staffers contacted us with this concern.
Attorney Paul Weiss of the Town of Cheektowaga Employees Association said: "We were upset that union, that town employees, our union members were being put in a compromising position. And that is under New York State Constitution, Article 8, Section 1 prohibits the use of public monies or public resources for private individuals or purposes."
Wegner told us: "This is about the union not having a contract and we all know this."
Reporter: "But wait a minute, this is dealing with taxpayers. Are you going to try to deflect now and turn around and say this is because of union contracts?
Wegner: "That's what we're out here for."
Actually, 2 On Your Side is out there trying to find out if anyone else got a favor at taxpayer expense, and we're trying to confirm more of them after Wegner admitted to this one.
"I told the crew to go there. It was my ... I authorized that," he said.
Reporter: "Isn't this a slippery slope, though, when you come down to it, superintendent? I mean, couldn't you start doing private work for people on private property constantly with this policy?"
Wegner: "I would help out anybody. Like I said earlier, I'd help out anybody."
Attorney Paul Weiss went to the Tuesday night town board meeting to speak and display the pictures he had blown up. At least one board member, Councilman Jerry Kaminski, was glad he did.
"Too much of this stuff has been buried, and I commend the people that finally came forward, and tried to keep themselves out of trouble, and do what's right for the taxpayers," Kaminski said.
On Wednesday, superintendent Wegner said the flagpole rope and solar light work was done at the medical professional office operated by a veteran and volunteer firefighter, and he guessed it was done in a few minutes for town employees.
Wegner says they stopped at the property on their way to another work assignment. But again, they were using town trucks parked on Borden Road, and there were at least three employees making $20 or more an hour.
We asked, "Is this strictly a favor?
Wegner: No, it's not a favor. We'd do that favor for anybody."
Reporter: As taxpayers, people are going to look at this and say, "What else has the town highway department done for people," wouldn't they?
Wegner: I don't see that, no.
Reporter: Could (it) be technically in violation of the state constitution?
Wegner: It could be in violation, but we hung a flag.
Reporter: Don't you take an oath, sir?
Wegner: Yes, I did.
Reporter: And did you take an oath to uphold the state constitution?
Wegner: Yes, I did.
Reporter: Well, if this is possibly in violation, as you admitted it possibly could, wouldn't you be in violation of the state constitution?
Wegner: Spank me.
Reporter: That's your answer to taxpayers?
Wegner: That's my answer.
And there was this future promise from the Highway Superintendent: "It'll never be done again. I'll guarantee the taxpayers that. It'll never be done again."
We have also learned from a source that people will be reaching out with a complaint to the State Division of Human Rights to determine if an individual employed by the highway department, who may have a disability, was allegedly harassed by a supervisor at that town department. We hope to have more information in the coming days.