The Niagara County Legislature is looking for a new public information officer and one of the two candidates for the job has a background that includes a plea to a pair of felonies and a stint as a main witness in one of the highest profile public corruption scandals in Western New York history.
The newspaper has confirmed that a committee of county legislators formed to find a replacement for former public information officer Douglas Hoover plans to interview ex-LPCiminelli executive and convicted felon Kevin Schuler for the position during a meeting on Monday.
Schuler served as a key witness for the prosecution in the Buffalo Billions corruption scandal, testifying against his former boss, Louis Ciminelli. His testimony helped convict Ciminelli on charges that he participated in a bid-rigging scheme involving lucrative contracts tied to the construction of the $750 million SolarCity project in Buffalo. Ciminelli was sentenced to a prison term of 28 months and ordered to pay a fine of $500,000.
For his role in the scandal, Schuler accepted a plea to two counts of wire fraud. In March, he was sentenced to two years of supervised release and 200 hours of community service by U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Caproni.
A Pendleton resident, Schuler has longstanding ties to the local Republican party and previously held prominent appointed positions with various public organizations, including the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency, the Niagara County Community College Board of Trustees and the Niagara Tourism Convention Corp.’s Board of Directors. He is also the former chairman of Niagara County’s lead business advocacy organization, the Niagara USA Chamber.
The other candidate for the public information officer job is newly elected Lewiston town Councilman Jason Meyers, who ran on the Conservative and Republican lines during his election campaign.
Whoever ends up getting the position will receive a salary next year that is 13.5 percent higher than it was this year.
County Manager Richard Updegrove, the former Republican Majority Leader in the legislature, submitted a 2020 county spending plan that called for the PIO’s salary to be increased from its current rate of $69,596 to $79,003 in 2020.
Niagara County Democratic Party Chairman and county lawmaker Jason Zona said that while he can’t say for sure if Schuler will ultimately end up being approved for the appointed position, he does question the timing of the proposed hike in pay.
“This wasn’t done for somebody just coming in from off the street,” he said.
Schuler could not be reached for comment late Friday.
County legislator Richard Andres, who is also the current chairman of the Niagara County Republican Party, did not respond to requests for comment.
Hoover was removed from the position after being accused of violating the county code of ethics by using county email to distribute a re-election campaign announcement for current legislature Chairman Keith McNall, R-Lockport.
Though the release sent out by Hoover included quotes from McNall, the chairman has denied directing Hoover to send the release out to media outlets. He said using “county resources for political purposes is strictly prohibited” and added that the matter was being investigated.
“Mr. Hoover’s actions are currently being reviewed by the Niagara County Department of Human Resources, and the department will determine if disciplinary action is to be taken,” he said following the incident. “Although done without my knowledge, I am more than willing to reimburse the county for any expense incurred related to this matter.”
On Tuesday, McNall announced the formation of the ad hoc committee of legislators who will conduct the interviews for the public information officer position. The committee includes Democratic Minority Leader Dennis Virtuoso and four Republican lawmakers, including Randy Bradt, David Godfrey, Anthony Nemi and William Collins, along with Legislature Clerk Mary Jo Tamburlin and County Manager Richard Updegrove.
Committee members are scheduled to conduct interviews with Schuler and Meyers on Monday.