CHEEKTOWAGA – Councilmember James Rogowski’s colleagues in local government voted in favor of a resolution formally calling for his resignation a week after he pleaded guilty to Attempted Criminal Contempt last week in Erie County Court.
The resolution formally sets up the framework to have Phillips Lytle LLP commence litigation in Supreme Court to have a justice determine if Mr. Rogowski’s plea automatically disqualified him from continuing to hold office.
Reading from a prepared statement Tuesday night, Mr. Rogowski said his legal troubles had not impacted his work as a town councilmember, and he was upset that the town based their resolution on case law involving a police officer accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a teenager.
“Do not call my commitment to this town into question and do not mislead the residents of this town by comparing me to a pedophile,” Mr. Rogowski said. “The case law you cite in the resolution involves a police officer from downstate engaging in a relationship with a 16-year-old. To compare my legal troubles during a divorce to his – is ridiculous, insulting, and disgusting. You all should be ashamed!”
He also questioned why the town would hire a “high-priced law firm” to take this matter to court.
“This town is on the verge of serious financial troubles, folks. As a steward of the taxpayer’s money – I question why this board would vote to cut programs for our youth one day, then choose to initiate what will become a costly legal action with a high priced law firm another. All to determine if I should be removed from my office. The taxpayers of Cheektowaga should determine my future on this board – not a political witch hunt. My determination to serve the Town of Cheektowaga remains unwavering – I will not resign.”
His statement was met with applause from residents attending the meeting. The resolution vote also was met with applause, but with less enthusiasm.
Supervisor Diane Benczkowski says taking legal action against Mr. Rogowski is the safest option for the town to understand the law surrounding public officers in legal troubles.
“Believe me, I’m heartbroken that it has gotten this far,” Ms. Benczkowski said. “I’m disturbed that we were even put in this position to have to take a stand. We need to all stand together for victims of domestic violence and for us to sit here as a board and not do anything, I think shame on us.”
Councilmember Brian Nowak says any expense occurred in pursuing a legal opinion is justified.
“I think there are times when things come up whether it’s dealing with our sewers, whether it’s dealing with the serious question of a councilmember and whether or not their conduct warrants removal from office,” said Mr. Nowak. “We got a $91 million budget. There are a lot of items we’re looking at to trim, to cut back, to make balances on and as we look into those more I think that would help us address some of those issues.”
“The town is spending an enormous amount of money to prove a point, and I think it’s crazy,” said Cheektowaga resident John Stiegler.
A prominent member of the veterans community in Cheektowaga and Erie County, he says many people are standing behind the embattled councilmember.
“He’s the hardest working councilman that I’ve ever seen in Cheektowaga. A lot of the people that voted for the resolution – you never see them do anything for the town,” added Mr. Stiegler. “I’m totally assured that the veterans community would stand behind Jimmy 100 percent along with most of the volunteer fire associations. Whether it’s the veterans or the firemen, he’s there to help us no matter what and these other people are never there.”
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