Tensions rise as candidate, councilman spar
You can tell campaign season has already begun in the city of Dunkirk.
On Feb. 16, the OBSERVER published a letter from former Dunkirk First Ward council candidate Dennis Welka. In it, Welka cited his legal issues with his opportunity to ballot petition that happened in 2017 and the resolution extending the terms for Common Council members from two to four years not making it on the 2018 ballot.
In the letter he put some blame toward First Ward Councilman Don Williams.
Williams offered his side of the story.
“Dennis Welka circulated a nominating petition for the Republican line; he was able to get several signatures,” Williams began. “Unfortunately, due to Welka’s lack of knowledge in the rules of the petitioning process, the petition he should have been circulating was an opportunity to ballot petition.
Instead of going back to all the individuals that signed the first petition and getting them to sign the proper petition, Mr. Welka chose to take a short cut. He chose to go and have the signatures professionally photocopied to the correct petition. I feel bad for the guy because he only had one week to get all these signatures and he needed like 60 to 80 signatures, and he got them all in three days; they were just on the wrong form.”
According to Williams, copying signatures, in itself, is not a crime that he knows of, but what one’s intent to use those signatures for can be. ln this case, Welka turned the correct petition with photocopied signatures over to Larry Wilcox with the intent of having Wilcox turn them in to the Chautauqua County Board of Elections.
“That would be the voter fraud, a class E felony that Mr. Welka was mentioning in his Feb. 16 letter to the editor,” Williams said. “What Mr. Welka failed to say in his letter to the editor is that the charges against him would be dropped if he testified that Mr. Wilcox knew that the signatures were photocopied. Just because Mr. Wilcox was not convicted doesn’t mean things were done correctly by he and Mr. Welka.”
Welka responded to Williams claims and stated he was never brought up on charges to begin with.
“I was told I would have full immunity if I testified against Larry,” Welka stated. “I was never brought up on charges.”
The case was sent forward to the district attorney by both election commissioners, Brian Abrams and Norman Green. Which means, according to Williams, both recognized that the petitions handed in that day were not originals.
“I believe in the integrity of the election process and every signature that I get I make sure I’m right there when the person’s signing,” Williams said.
The councilman also spoke at length about the four-year term resolution that failed to make it onto the 2018 ballot. According to the article “Heenan grills attorney on change in vote” that was printed Dec. 20, Third Ward Councilman Shaun Heenan asked “How did two people, through a phone call, agree to amend it themselves without the approval of the council?”
Williams claims the first time he heard that the resolution wasn’t going to be on the ballot was on one of the last two Saturdays in October. That morning, Williams, along with Mayor Wilfred Rosas, County Legislator Robert Bankoski, Councilman Martin Bamonto and Ned Divine were at the Dunkirk Democratic headquarters planning strategies and functions with the Chautauqua Cattaraugus Women’s Action Group and the Tracy Mitrano campaign.
“We were not conducting city business,” Williams stated. “Prior to the Mitrano campaign and (the group) showing up, Norm Green walked in. He made the statement that the editor was a little premature in his article that morning, because the referendum didn’t even make the ballot.”
According to Williams, the OBSERVER would have known this as copies of the sample ballots would have been circulated already. It was at that point he and the others were told the resolution was never filed correctly to be a referendum on the 2018 ballot.
“After asking what needed to happen next, we were told we could keep pressing the issue and force a special election that would cost the taxpayers $10,000 or it goes on 2019 ballot,” Williams added.
In Welka’s letter he states “A call from the mayor to Williams and Bamonto, is all it took for this illegal act to happen.” According to Williams, no such thing happened. “There was no special meeting like Welka and the editor imply. We were there to plan election strategies and then we were informed of the referendum not having been handled correctly for the 2018 ballot. The referendum was not going to be on the ballot long before any of us arrived to the Democratic headquarters that day.”