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Reports of threats, bullying in Chili

Check your gut 

Reports of threats, bullying in Chili

What is the price for disloyalty in Steve Minarik's Republican Party?

            Maybe he has you replaced as local party chair.

            Maybe he revokes a promised county job offer.

            Maybe he vows not to support your next bid for higher office.

            Maybe.

            "I want to tell you something: 12 years, being an elected official, I have never once been told how to vote or what to do by Steve Minarik," says Chili Supervisor Tracy Logel. "I get so tired of reading it in the newspaper because it's so blatantly off base. All I've ever had from him is support for anything I've ever wanted to do."

            That may be, but Minarik's fingerprints are all over Chili these days.

            For starters, he had Mary Sperr removed as leader of the Chili Republican Party.

            "I don't think it was justified or fair, but it's not for me to decide," she says. "If that's the way he feels, fine."

            Former supervisor Steve Hendershott is out pounding the pavement after a promised county job has vanished.

            And if Councilman Mike Slattery intends to seek a rematch against state Assemblywoman Susan John, he might have to do it without support --- or money --- from the county GOP.

            "I'm not sure what provoked what, but for sure we may have a better candidate there than Mike," Minarik says.

            "If there's other repercussions, I will deal with it," Slattery responds. "I was elected by the people to do what's best for the people, and that's what I'm going to continue to do."

            Such is the respect for Minarik's power and influence that Republicans refuse to say anything even remotely critical of him, or even why they won't say anything critical --- because they fear exactly what's taking place in Chili right now.

            "The supervisor's supposed to, along with the town board, run town government. Not Steve Minarik from downtown," says Councilman Jim Powers, the lone Democrat on the board. "I don't think that downtown should dictate to any party in the way Minarik has interfered. And who knows how much in the past he has interfered with things out here?"

            Minarik denies having anything to do with the operation of Chili town government.

            "I have everything to do with the operation of the Chili Republican Party. That's my job," he says. "I don't know the first thing about town government, so I am absolutely not involved. I am only interested in getting people in my party to work together."

Days before Logel took office, Chili board members voted unanimously to move the town's finance director, Dianne O'Meara, to the vacant comptroller position. They did this because they knew Logel intended to replace O'Meara.

            "She's [O'Meara] worked through three administrations. She's done a satisfactory job as far as I'm concerned," Powers says. "I read her resume and I read that of the gentleman Mrs. Logel was planning to bring in. Dianne's background was far superior."

            The comptroller essentially has the same job description as finance director. The difference is, the town board can appoint a comptroller, but the position of finance director is appointed by the supervisor alone.

            "We wanted to retain the municipal experience of Dianne and felt there was no need to be replacing her with someone who is going to have to have a learning curve," says Councilwoman Ginny Ignatowski. "You already have a new supervisor and a new secretary to the supervisor. To sit there and have those two new people plus a new finance director..."

            O'Meara did not return calls for comment.

            The decision did not sit well with Minarik or Logel --- who was in the audience when the board made the appointment.

            "She stomped out. She was out in the hallway stomping her feet and on the telephone immediately," Powers says.

            At some point during the meeting, Powers says, a note was delivered to the dais.

            "The note said, 'Minarik wants to meet with you now,'" Ignatowski says. "I was like, 'Well, what does that mean?' I passed it off to Steve [Hendershott] and he just set it there."

            "I wanted them to be able to take a timeout to sit and talk about this," Minarik says. "To my knowledge, no discussion had been had on this. As a matter of fact, I wasn't even aware of it, not that it matters. So much for my impact on Chili, right?"

            Ignatowski thought Logel wanted to have her own meeting with the board following that meeting.

            "That was my impression," she says. "Michael [Slattery] had the impression that they wanted us to stop the meeting at that very moment and have this phone conversation with Minarik."

            Logel wouldn't comment on the note, but called board members' version of the story "a very big distortion."

Replacing O'Meara was nothing personal, Logel says. State law allows the supervisor to appoint a finance director and, she says, she heard O'Meara was looking for another job anyhow.

            "Now, should I have gone to her and asked her? Perhaps," Logel says. "But it was reliable sources."

            Logel is entitled to appoint four positions in the town: finance director, her own secretary, town historian, and deputy supervisor. The rest of the appointments are subject to the town board's approval.

            "Every supervisor that I've talked to in other towns has advised me to surround myself with highly qualified people in those four positions, and that's exactly what I was trying to do," Logel says.

            Specifically, Logel wanted to hire Kodak retiree and Webster resident Andrew Bartlett as finance director. Bartlett, while a former financial analyst at Kodak, does not have any municipal experience, board members say.

            "So what?" Logel responds. "Neither did she [O'Meara] when she started here. What does that have to do with anything?"

            Not hiring Bartlett is "a loss for the town of Chili," Logel says. "This man could have brought innovative, innovative things."

            "You know, institutional memory [another reason board members say they kept O'Meara] is just plain doing things the way we've always done it and let's not change," she adds. "Change is good. Change, never is bad."

            Bartlett, according to Ignatowski, was recommended by Steve Minarik.

Board members past and present are now paying the price for their decision.

            Sperr was removed as head of the local party three days after the comptroller vote.

            "I feel bad about that," Minarik says. "I kind of like Mary, actually. But there seemed to be a refusal to want to work together on the town board and you can't have that. You can't have Republicans not working together. I want people working together because it's the only way Republicans can win."

            Logel wouldn't comment on Sperr's removal.

            Because Hendershott was technically still in office when the vote came down, he, too, is suffering the consequences. The promise of a job with Monroe County has been revoked. The Republican board members wrote Minarik a letter, Powers says, asking him not to blame Hendershott for their actions, but they haven't gotten a response.

            Minarik isn't aware of any job offer for Hendershott.

            "I doubt that," he says. "There's absolutely no connection between where people work and politics. They're separate issues."

            Logel, too, Powers says, tried to retaliate by initially not appointing board members as liaisons to different departments within the town. Logel wrongly thought, he says, that would make them part-time employees and board members "wouldn't get their hospitalization or other benefits."

            "That's Tracy. She just flies off the handle once in a while," Powers says. "You don't dare contradict her. If you do, then beware. She's a very difficult lady to get along with."

            The town's personnel policy, Sperr says, states that elected officials are considered full-time employees.

            Logel denies any attempt at retaliation. At a recent board meeting, she put board members on committees and those committees will serve as the liaisons.

The comptroller controversy has been overshadowed by talk of missing and deleted files at Town Hall.

            "That's not talk. That, in my office, is hard-core truth," Logel says. "All the files in this room were empty. Plus, the computer was erased. There was nothing on it. Not a single file."

            Specifically, Logel says, she is looking for things like employee performance appraisals and documents related to projects the previous administration was working on.

            Reports of a possible police investigation are overblown, Logel says, but she did have an informal conversation with Capt. Michael Nyhan, of the Monroe County Sheriff's Office.

            "Can you suspect that a crime was committed? Can you suspect that there's things missing? Yeah," she says. "Were these files empty when he [Hendershott] was here? No. People know that. I don't believe that you have all of these file cabinets sitting around to keep them vacant."

            Hendershott and the Republican board members argue that everything Logel is looking for is there. Hendershott would not talk with City on the record, but did submit a written statement:

            "I left the office exactly as I found it when I came in, including six file cabinets full of records. Any town record not in those files can be found in the files of the town clerk's office or in the files of the various departments," he writes. "Prior to January 1 [when Logel took office], I and my staff were available to meet with Tracy to help with transition. She only asked to meet with me once very briefly and never had her secretary meet with mine."

            "I provided her with everything she asked for," he adds. "The campaign is over. Tracy needs to stop waging this personal vendetta against me and focus on doing the job of supervisor that she was elected to do."

            Logel didn't come in, she says, because she didn't feel welcome.

            "I came in [the first time] and I said then that I knew it was difficult, I knew it was not comfortable for him, but I would like to come in and find out where everything was," she says.

            She specifically wanted to meet with O'Meara and Hendershott's secretary, Logel says, and the request "was not met with open arms."

            "It could have been a lot easier than it was," she says.

Ask Logel to describe her leadership style and she'll tell you she favors a no-nonsense, laissez-faire approach to management.

            "I don't micromanage. It's not my place to do your job," she says. "My leadership style is to surround myself with people who are more capable than me, who can do the job, because they make me look good. That's the mark of good management."

            But some of Logel's fellow board members say the supervisor is hyper-sensitive, takes offense easily, and does not work cooperatively, instead bulldozing over anyone who gets in her way.

            "It's her way or no way. She does not take criticism well," Powers says. "I think she's a vindictive individual. She'll use [the] bully pulpit she now occupies to beat on her enemies."

            "It's going to be a rough two years," he adds. (Two years is the length of Logel's term.)

            Board members point to the committee assignments as an example of Logel's unilateralism. They had no voice, they say, in which departments or boards they act as liaison to.

            "She did not ask any of us about this," Sperr says. 

            Republican board members are a little more careful with their choice of words when describing the Logel style.

            "We have every intention of working with her," Sperr says. "It doesn't have to be volatile. We should be focusing on moving forward, not aiming at the past administration."

            Going to the police about alleged missing files is classic Logel, Ignatowski says.

            "She is trying to breed mistrust in us," she says. "She's just putting this stuff out there whether there's any validity to it or not."

            Ignatowski feels freer to speak her mind, she says, because she doesn't have political aspirations beyond the town board.

            "I am not here for power or anything else like that. I'm trying to do what I felt God wanted me to do, to serve people. If it should happen to be that it's only for four years, then that's whatever the plan is," she says. "I can't even begin to guess what's going to happen tomorrow. I don't base my vote on how this will effect me and my reelection. Perhaps that's why politicians have such a bad name."

Such characterizations of her are unfair, Logel says, when board members haven't even taken the time to get to know her.

            "I've had one caucus with them in which they basically said very little, then went into the organizational meeting and did superimpose their agenda," she says. "At this point in the game, I can't imagine how they could even make comments like that, because they have no idea who I am. They've made no effort whatsoever to work with me from the day I won the primary."

            "I'm surprised that people would make statements about people that they have no idea what they're about," she adds. "They don't know me as a human being."

            Ideally, everyone would have gotten to know each other on the campaign trail, Logel says, but knee surgery prevented her from going door-to-door with the Republican board members.

            The other board members resent her, Logel says, and are trying to hold on to any part of the Hendershott administration they can.

            "I've worked for the last 10 years in the county and two years before that on the [Chili] town board. Never have I been disappointed like this," she says. "I feel badly for them that they are so unable to move past this. I expected more of them."

            The resentment is so strong, Logel says, she avoids being alone with her fellow board members.

            "I have not gone behind closed doors with them," she says. "I've made sure I'm never alone."

            Asked how they treat her privately, Logel responds, "I'd rather not say."

Logel has been quoted as saying that the board committed "political suicide" when it made O'Meara comptroller. But, she says, people misunderstand what she meant.

            Nearly ninety percent of Chili's population voted for her or Democratic candidate Jason Elliotto in November's general election, she says, despite the fact that Hendershott was also in the race.

            "We had 89 percent of the population saying, 'We don't want Hendershott.' That's a high number," she says. "If you say 89 percent of the people don't want this administration and this style, why would you continue the same modus operandi? That's what I mean by political suicide."

            "Maybe if you print what political suicide is," she adds, "they'll understand themselves when they read it."

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