Search resumes for county homeland security chief in NYNiagara County's annual $1.2 million to $1.4 million in federal homeland security aid could be at risk without a director, an official said
By Thomas J. Prohaska
The Buffalo News
LOCKPORT, N.Y. — Nearly two years after the Niagara County Legislature pulled the plug on a search for a county homeland security director, it looks like the job may be filled.
A Legislature committee, in an unexpected action that wasn't on its agenda, voted unanimously Wednesday to resume the search.
The Community Safety and Security Committee sent the matter to the full Legislature after hearing appeals from Sheriff James R. Voutour and Public Health Director Daniel J. Stapleton that the job was needed.
In June 2008, the Legislature approved creation of a Homeland Security Department, with a $75,000-a-year director to be chosen by County Manager Gregory D. Lewis.
But the next month, the Legislature reversed course and ordered Lewis not to fill the post. Lewis had begun a national search that Legislator Michael D. Hill, R-Hartland, said Wednesday produced some impressive candidates.
The reason given by the Republican-controlled Legislature for halting the search was that there was an election going on for sheriff, and the new sheriff might want a say in whether the post was needed. The GOP candidate, Ernest C. Palmer, was against it.
Voutour, a Democrat, defeated Palmer in the 2008 election. The Legislature then created a study committee, which included Voutour. In December, it reported in favor of having a homeland security director.
"Let's get something done," said Legislator Clyde L. Burmaster, R-Ransomville. "We should get it in the budget this year somehow. It certainly should be something we put in the budget for next year."
Chairman Paul B. Wojtaszek, R-North Tonawanda, said the salary and the search procedure aren't set.
Sheriff's Chief Deputy Thomas Beatty and Deputy Emergency Management Director John Cecula warned that the county's annual $1.2 million to $1.4 million in federal homeland security aid could be at risk without a director.
They said the Federal Emergency Management Agency could conclude the county hasn't complied with the preparedness and organizational mandates called the National Incident Management System. The county almost lost its security allotment three years ago, Cecula said.
He charged that the towns and cities have shown no interest in compliance. Only the Town of Niagara has named a homeland security coordinator, that being its police chief.
"We have zero credibility if we're not compliant ourselves," Stapleton said.
Cecula said members of the Sheriff's, Health, Emergency Management and Public Works departments have completed training courses, but the Budget, Risk and Insurance, Human Resources and Data Processing departments should, too.
To avoid enlarging the county government, there was consideration of assigning homeland security duties to a deputy or assistant in some other department.
Legislator Jason J. Cafarella, D-Niagara Falls, said such a move would mean "you're taking away the capacity to lead."
"We really need that single focal point, whatever the title is," said Legislator David E. Godfrey, R-Wilson.
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