SLOAN – Two former Sloan elected officials who resigned their offices recently say their resignations were the result of Village Clerk Debra Smith making board meetings and work sessions a “hostile work environment,” and they felt they could not represent the residents fairly if specific questions could not be asked out of a fear of reprisal.
Former Deputy Mayor Barry Ping and Trustee Paul Zogaria tells Cheektowaga Chronicle that Ms. Smith would often get into heated arguments with the elected officials after they would ask a question on a matter and the meetings would evolve into unproductive screaming matches.
“Stressful is an understatement,” said Mr. Zogaria. “It felt like a hostile work environment.”
Mr. Zogaria, a trustee with only a year’s tenure on the board, says he dreaded attending the meetings because of her actions.
“Out the year, I had a lot of friction with Debbie. The first year coming on I asked questions, I’m new to this, and some of the responses were less than favorable. They kind of beat me down a little bit,” said Mr. Zogaria.
Cheektowaga Chronicle reached Ms. Smith by telephone Friday afternoon. She politely declined to comment saying the resignations are a human resource issue. Mayor Thomas Ferrucci said on Tuesday, “They left on beautiful terms” and “They resigned, they had their personal reasons and that was it. I didn’t ask, and we just got to go forward.”
Mr. Ping says, unlike larger municipalities that have separate people performing the duties of clerk and budget director, villages like Sloan rely on one person to perform the duties of both jobs.
“For the seven years I was on there, she was very involved in all the topics that the board talked on, and there’s nothing wrong with that at times. If it’s a budget issue, she should say, ‘there is this much money in the budget’ or ‘we didn’t budget for that,’ but when there’s a back and forth on things, it should ultimately be the board having the discussions,” added Mr. Ping.
Mr. Ping says the final straw came last month when he and Ms. Smith got into an argument during a meeting. The meeting was adjourned over it according to Mr. Ping, and no further business of the village could be conducted.
“A few days went by, and I went back to the village hall to approach the clerk and asked if I could talk to her about the dispute and the issues we had in the meeting. I was pretty much shut down by her, not able to talk,” said Mr. Ping.
“If I can’t ask the questions that I was elected to ask for the residents of the village I can no longer do my duty as trustee. At that point, I figured the best thing for the village is for me to step away from my position and let somebody in there who could maybe work better with the village hall and the board,” added Mr. Ping.
The two trustees submitted their resignations a short time after the encounter in the village hall. Mayor Thomas Ferrucci then went to work finding replacements for Messrs. Ping and Zogaria. On Tuesday he appointed Paula Bruscani and Eric Czubaj. Both of the former trustees have no regrets over the mayor’s appointments.
“You’re not going to appoint somebody who you think is going to give you a hard time and at the time they were under the gun,” said Mr. Ping. “They needed to have a quorum, and they wouldn’t of had a quorum if they didn’t appoint people immediately. They went out and searched the people who would take the position. I’m fine with who they appointed.”
Both Messrs. Ping and Zogaria said they support the mayor and the work the village is doing and hopes this matter doesn’t leave a bad blemish on the community’s reputation.
“I’m not out to trash anybody or the village. I think the village is a great place to be, a great place to live, and I was trying to keep it that way by being on the board. I just felt over time, with the disputes and the issues we had, that I didn’t want to deal with three more years until my term was up,” said Mr. Ping.