Legal questions surrounding Orchard Park settlement with former police chief

Chief Mark Pacholec controversially retired earlier this month

Mike Baggerman
May 30, 2019 - 3:00 am

WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WBEN) – The ouster of former Orchard Park Police Chief Mark Pacholec has a lot of controversial elements to it, though the Orchard Park Town Attorney, John Bailey, said that there are misconceptions about what is happening between the town and the former chief.

“Oh you bet there are,” Bailey said. “Nothing is as appears on the surface here.”

Pacholec retired earlier this month as police chief but may have pressured by the Orchard Park Town Board to do so because they called him into a disciplinary hearing and also gave him $100,000 and had him sign a confidentiality agreement in weeks and months leading up to his retirement.

“At some point, the town and the former police chief decided it was time to retire,” Bailey said. “As for what the specific chemistry was between those two parties, I’m not entirely privy to that and I’m somewhat limited to what I can say by the separation agreement.”

We asked the attorney if there was reason to suspect that Pacholec broke the law in some way, but Bailey said they have no evidence of that.

“The idea was to try to bring some closure to the retirement talks,” Bailey said. “They dragged on for a while and this was a way to sort of bringing things to a head. The only way we could do it was in an ordinance that’s entitled ‘disciplinary hearing’.”

When asked if the disciplinary hearing was meant for discipline, Bailey referred to the phrase “Thank you for serving, Mark”.

WBEN legal analyst Paul Cambria questioned the expenditure and suggested that the town could not have a confidentiality agreement that incorporates the use of tax dollars and said the courts would entertain legal arguments over where exactly the money went and what it was specifically for.

Bailey said the agreement was worked out by labor attorneys representing both Pacholec and the town. He said the confidentiality agreement was enforceable once the town received a legal opinion from New York State which allowed them to have it.

“If we gave out the agreement, Mark could sue the town,” Bailey said. “Because we have this opinion from the state, it gives the town either defense or cover, depending on how you look at it, in releasing the separation agreement.”

He also said the $100,000 given to Pacholec was part of a retirement package because Pacholec was the highest paid employee in the Town of Orchard Park, who made $165,000 per year.

“That had some relation to the settlement amount he would receive upon retiring,” Bailey said.

In multiple articles written by The Buffalo News, Pacholec’s wife said that the former chief was a scapegoat in the controversy and the newspaper also first reported that the police union gave a vote of no confidence to Pacholec in the months leading up to his retirement.

“I’m so disappointed in Mrs. Pacholec,” Bailey said. “She’s obviously been very severely affected by this. The article (Wednesday morning) did not reflect reality in any way.”

When asked to expand on the misconceptions, Bailey declined to comment, but said details will come out in time.

Orchard Park Councilman Michael Sherry told WBEN in an e-mail that the chief's retirement is "completely unconnected to the town board's consideration of the current salary paid to the chief of police position".

"I and the town board continue to fully own and are proud of the contract negotiated with the officers in the Orchard Park Police Benevolent Association," Sheery said. "As was sahred with our community upon arriving at a tentative agreement 18 months ago, our offices had been one of the lowest paid in the county, but collectively represent one of the most capable, dedicated, and productive departments in WNY as measured by a number of standards that were considered."

“Given the information that’s available, I think the media is doing as good a job as it can,” Bailey said. “As more information becomes available, I think the story will drift in a different direction.”

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