• MOVING ON: Congratulations to now-former Somerset town supervisor Dan Engert, who landed a new job in the state of Florida: Chief of courts and detention services for the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office. Engert officially retired from the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office last week, ending his 29-year tenure there with the rank of deputy chief of the county jail, then resigned from the Somerset supervisor’s office, only a few days ahead of his scheduled starting date in his new job. This past Tuesday, the Somerset town board paid well-deserved tribute to Engert, via a proclamation praising his contributions to the town during his eight years as supervisor. Since 2012, the Town of Somerset has been confronted with one gargantuan challenge after another — from the slow but sure demise of its largest employer and taxpayer, AES / Somerset Operating Company, to the unwelcomed and unrelenting overtures of Big Wind — and Engert, as the town’s leading (and most booming) voice, met the challenges head-on with strength, passion and intelligence that belie the humble job title “town supervisor.” Somerset’s loss, heck, Niagara County’s loss, surely is Flagler County, Florida’s gain.
• GRAND TOTAL: The non-profit Historic Palace Theatre is $100,000 ahead in its visionary “Act II: A Grand Restoration” campaign thanks to the John R. Oishei Foundation, whose grant will help underwrite a new rigging system, orchestra pit updates and “soft goods” such as curtains. Act II is a four-year, $3.3 million campaign to renovate and restore the luster on Lockport’s nearly century-old landmark theater, and support from one of the biggest grantmakers in Western New York is a sign the Palace is viewed as a gem of the region, too.
• BAD GOVERNMENT: Appointment of Niagara County’s Chief Public Defender by the county legislature on a straight party-line vote last week provides more proof how misled our Niagara County government is. Nicholas Robinson, assistant North Tonawanda city attorney, was awarded the job on a 9-5 vote, with all the “no” votes cast by Democrats whose caucus leader Dennis Virtuoso expressed perfectly the problems with Robinson’s hire. Neither before nor after veteran Chief Public Defender David Farrugia’s retirement was a job opening posted; there was no candidate search, no interviews and “no process” at all for filling a critical public post, it was simply given by the GOP-led majority to an affiliate who turned in a letter of interest after hearing — what, through the grapevine? — about Farrugia’s departure. Robinson has been an assistant public defender for two years — and licensed to practice law for a whole, whopping five years — and he has just been put in charge of a unit of county government that has the solemn duty to defend the rights of county residents who can’t afford their own counsel. Giving the chief defender’s post to the first and only taker is lazy, apathetic and just plain appalling.