Gowanda questions police changes

GOWANDA – There were many questions from members of the public at the Gowanda Village Board meeting regarding the police department Tuesday.

Residents packed the board room at village hall and during the public comment period of the meeting questions were raised about the police department. Janet Vogtli, a village taxpayer, asked the board for more information on the demotion of Officer in Charge Joseph Alessi, and the alleged harassment complaint from officer Jen Alessi. She said both Alessis have been a great addition to the community.

“Jen and Joe Alessi have been invaluable to this community. They have given so much time (to this community) …,” Vogtli said.

She also asked the board why Jen Alessi was being taken away as a detective in the police department and why the village hired a full-time officer. Vogtli asked where the full-time officer’s salary is being paid from within the village’s budget.

Michael Benson, a lawyer representing Jen Alessi, also spoke at the meeting. He questioned Mayor Heather McKeever as to whom he should speak with regarding the harassment complaint. Benson said he was directed to not talk to the village attorney, Deborah Chadsey – who was absent from the meeting for personal reasons.

“My question to you is, are you trying to renegotiate the SRO (school resource officer) contract with Gowanda Central School District …,” Benson asked. ” … If you are, is it in retaliation of the harassment complaint which is filed against you?”

McKeever said that Benson’s claim regarding Chadsey being ordered to not talk is untrue. Later in the meeting, McKeever addressed the police department. She cited the “ongoing personnel matter” for not commenting further but did say the village board will “get the facts out there” in the near future.

“There are a couple things I can point out. The full-time officer and (Sean Hotnich) who is now the officer in charge were actually hired by Joe Alessi in 2010. Anything else on that matter, I will just hope people know the board is looking carefully into the decision that we made,” she said. “Anything that we have done has been via civil service regulations. They have been appropriate and legal. We will be able to get the facts out there at a later date.

“At this point, our attorney is not here tonight due to a death in her family, so there’s been somewhat of a delay of a response of what Mr. Benson talked about. At this point, everything is being addressed. I realize that it is something where there are a lot of questions. I will hope that you understand the moral obligations; the village board has to do what is right,” McKeever concluded.

The village board will meet again on April 7 for its reorganizational and regular meeting.

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