Benczkowski offers apology over “town cryers” Facebook post

CHEEKTOWAGA – Supervisor Diane Benczkowski apologized to two town residents at Tuesday night’s town board meeting after they criticized her for the public comments she made about them in recent weeks.

Ronald Lorek and David Uzar used the meeting’s public comment period to voice their displeasure after the supervisor chastised them for expressing their disapproval of Charlie Markel’s appointment to the Deputy Highway Superintendent job in a WGRZ-TV news report.

The supervisor addressed Mr. Lorek personally during her comment period at the March 13th meeting. 

“Ron Lorek, I saw you on the news the other day.  It actually was strange to see you on TV, in fact, I was very puzzled,” Ms. Benczkowski said.  “When Charlie Markel was removed from the office in 2014, Ron, you contacted him and helped him because you believed in him.  You walked Charlie Markel down your entire street introducing your neighbors to him and asking them to please support him because ‘he has done so, so much for us.’  He demolished a real eyesore of a house in your neighborhood and saved another deteriorating home that was tagged for demolition.  He was your hero back then.”

The supervisor then read from a ten-minute prepared statement praising Mr. Markel’s qualifications.

Councilmember Brian Nowak apologized to Mr. Lorek during Mr. Nowak’s comment period.  “I feel from our position – even though I agree with a lot of what the supervisor said – I don’t think we should be calling people out from up here.”

Ms. Benczkowski later took to Facebook commenting in a thread for WGRZ’s story saying in part, “These two town cryers come to every board meeting and complain about something while they sit home and contribute nothing to society except living off us taxpayers.”

Mr. Lorek spoke first during Tuesday’s comment period.

“What I am is a 75-year-old senior who contributed to the workforce for 63 years – I earned my Social Security.  A veteran who served his country – I deserve your respect.  A retiree of Bethlehem Steel who labored and managed for 36 years – I contributed to the community,” said Mr. Lorek.  “Your comments were elementary and unnecessary.  We are your constituents, and you are our elected official.  You should be ashamed of your response.” 

Mr. Uzar told Ms. Benczkowski that he wasn’t a town crier and read a definition of the job which dates back to the 18th century.  “If you want to call me a social gadfly, I’d accept that,” said Mr. Uzar.

“I’ve got more time in this town then everybody but Jerry [Kaminski] on that board.  I’ve been a resident of this town for 64 years.  I put 45 years in one place. I paid Social Security; I paid taxes.  I don’t collect a pension that doesn’t pay state taxes, I still pay taxes on my pension,” added Mr. Uzar. “Where do you get off calling me somebody that is basically mooching off the government – which I’m not.  I haven’t collected unemployment in over 30 years.”

The supervisor addressed both men at the end of the comment period.

“I do want to apologize to both Ron Lorek and Dave Uzer.  I got caught up in the heat of the moment.  The press does not understand how busy I am all day long trying to fix everybody’s problems, and Ron, you know I’m always there fixing things for you all the time, and we have had open communication with my office over the years,” said Ms. Benczkowski.  “Dave, I’m glad you brought this up.  He gave us the suggestion about having a moment of silence for our veterans, and we did that for you, Dave.  I appreciate your opinions.  I’m sorry. I did get heated up, caught up in the moment with the press more so than with you, but I shouldn’t have said what I said so I apologize for that.”

Dr. Deborah Silverman is an Associate Professor at Buffalo State who teaches public relations.  She says many people may say something on social media that they later regret because they lack restraint while posting.

“Some people have the personality to be more restraint when they’re in a public setting and others do not,” said Dr. Silverman.  “It isn’t just political leaders, its athletes, its celebrities, its all sorts of people in the public eye, and I think the temptation is to get themselves to say something on Twitter and then regret it.  Perhaps Twitter more so than the other social media. Certainly, there are ways to edit your comments, but with Twitter, you’re in trouble quickly.”

She says the image of a person in the public eye isn’t damaged too severely as long as they offer a sincere apology for any offending post.

“The supervisor did apologize to the two men, and I think she made a good point that she got caught up in the heat of the moment and she’s busy all day trying to work for the people of Cheektowaga, which is great, and I understand that. I think she handled that very well,” added Dr. Silverman.

Mr. Uzar says he accepts the supervisor’s apology.  Mr. Lorek does not.  “She can apologize, but she meant it when she said it.”

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