What Leads to Commissioners Appointment at ECWA?

Position seen as a political "reward"

Mike Baggerman
June 20, 2018 - 3:00 am
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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) – With the ongoing issues at the top of the Erie County Water Authority, it’s important to remember how politics play a role in the appointment of the commissioners.

The Water Authority is controlled by whoever is the majority in the Erie County Legislature, which currently has a democrat majority. Commissioners are largely appointed based on political affiliation and donation history. Their reward is $22,500 per year for the commissioner role.

 “The commissioners are technically appointed by the chairman of the county legislature following nominations by the respective political parties at the legislature,” Ken Kruly, who writes for Politics and Other Stuff, said. “They take office after that. The positions themselves were authorized by the state legislation which was passed in 1949.”

There are three nominated commissioners for the Water Authority and no more than two can be from one party. Republican Earl Jann’s firing last week resulted in the first vacancy, which will be filled by republican. However, calls for the resignation of democrat Jerome Schad, who has been a commissioner since 2013, have increased following a report last week from the NYS Authorities Budget Office called for his resignation. Mark Carney was appointed to his three-year term in April by a 10-1 vote in the legislature.

Erie County Democrat and Republican Party Chairmen Jeremy Zellner and Nick Langworthy, respectively, did not provide comments on the record.  

 “Over time, the parties have sort of mellowed into each having a certain stake in the organization,” Kruly added. “It’s not the most efficient way to do it but that’s the way it’s evolved.”

The Water Authority was criticized by the NYS ABO for failing its fiduciary duty, not operating transparently, a failure to appropriately respond to FOIL requests, and not posting enough information on its website.

READ THE FULL NYS ABO REPORT HERE

Some commissioners have experience in management and in the law. For example, Jann was a former Town Supervisor in Marilla and also a pharmaceutical sales representative. Carney is a lawyer in the City of Buffalo. Kruly said it’s valuable for the authority to have that management experience but the commissioners tend not to have experience in providing safe water.

“All experiences matter whether it’s someone with water experience or municipal experience or managerial experience,” Erie County Legislator Joe Lorigo said. “It would be great to find someone who has all those things rolled into one. We’ll do the interviews and see where people stand.”

Erie County Legislator Tom Loughran said he wants the Water Authority to be reformed completely.

“I would not be looking for a commissioner that wasn’t committed to a transition of structurally changing the way we deliver water to our constituents and the rate payers,” Loughran said.

Kruly proposed on his website on Tuesday that commissioners should have their salaries set at $0 instead of at $22,500.

“No other authority or at least very few authorities in the State of New York anymore have any type of compensation for commissioners,” Kruly said.

Kruly also suggested that the county should absorb the Water Authority using bond arrangements, though it's unknown how much it would cost Erie County to take in the Water Authority.

“I believe that to fold this in to a county department…there would be more accountability,” Loughran said. “People could be fired. Elected officials that went along with it could be voted out of office.”

Legislator Joe Lorigo said they looked into the feasibility of Erie County absorbing the Water Authority as a county department and hopes they can have more details late next week.

“There’s another commissioner appointment coming up,” Lorigo said. “In the past we’ve gotten one or very few applicants. We have an opportunity to bring someone in who isn’t going to play the politics of the past or be beholden to anybody.”

Applications are being accepted through June 26.

Kruly said the positives of the Water Authority are that they do provide clean water but the large superstructure of administrative positions are paid too much for activities that he believed could be absorbed by Erie County.

You can read more from Kruly by clicking HERE.

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