Poloncarz withdraws Central Police Services appointment after past revelations surface

Jul 14, 2016

The Erie County Legislature on Thursday formally and unanimously voted down James Michel as a candidate for Central Police Services Commissioner. His candidacy was already derailed earlier in the day, when the Erie County Executive withdrew his appointment of Michel following the revelation of a report detailing a pattern of abusive and hostile language against a female subordinate.

Michel, now the Chief of Police in the City of Lackawanna, was selected by County Executive Mark Poloncarz last month to replace the retired John Glascott. On Wednesday, when he was questioned by legislators about several incidents of concern, it was revealed that back in 1999 he was disciplined for what was documented as a pattern of hostile, abusive language toward a female dispatcher.

James Michel, seen here during confirmation hearings on Wednesday, was formally rejected Thursday as a candidate for Erie County's Commissioner of Central Police Services.
Credit WBFO/Mike Desmond

On Thursday morning, Poloncarz announced he had withdrawn his appointment of Michel. Legislature Majority Leader Joseph Lorigo expressed relief upon learning of the decision. Lorigo also revealed how the 1999 disciplinary document came to light.

"Somebody brought this to our attention and said this individual Mr. Michel has a history of bad behavior, has a terrible track record of managing individuals, particularly women," said Lorigo.

It was not revealed who leaked the document. Poloncarz, who spoke with WBFO in his office Thursday afternoon, said it would not have come up in a standard background check because it was not a criminal charge but rather a disciplinary record in a confidential file.

Poloncarz also explained that he selected Michel from a list of three finalists that were presented to him by the CPS Board of Trustees, who interviewed candidates and then forwarded their recommendations to the county executive. By the County Charter, he added, he is not allowed to nominate a candidate not recommended by the trustees.

"If they sent me three names of individuals, I have to nominate one of those individuals," Poloncarz said. "I also trust the Central Police Services Board of Trustees to do the vetting process as well, because they interview multiple candidates."

According to the county executive, Michel did not bring up his 1999 disciplinary report during the interview process but, when asked by Poloncarz about it on Thursday, said the story was only partially true but indicated he had apologized to the officer and didn't feel it was something that needed to be brought up years later.

Had Michel been confirmed for the position of Commissioner, he would have been placed in a work setting where the second-in-command and the head of the county's E911 system are both women.

"Especially in that department, but in any department, the respect of women should be paramount," Lorigo added.

The majority leader suggested Poloncarz would not have had any way of knowing about the 1999 report, but the county executive expressed disappointment in how the information was made public and that he wasn't alerted sooner. "If there's any one thing I wish, I wish Legislator Lorigo would have called me on it, to let me know he had this information before it became this big thing today," Poloncarz said. "I could have talked to Chief Michel then and said 'is this true' and then withdrawn his nomination before all this happened. I would have. Instead, his reputation is now besmirched and it shouldn't be." Michel, along with attorney Howard Cohen, has scheduled a Friday afternoon news conference to explain the withdrawal of his nomination.