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Communication broken down between Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and republican lawmakers?

Lawmaker says there are barriers to communication
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Posted at 3:00 AM, Feb 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-23 20:14:32-05

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — 'Fractured' might be the best way to describe the state of politics in Erie County. There is a Republican minority, unhappy with the way the Democratic majority is running things with County Executive Mark Poloncarz at the helm.

But what doesn't help, is communication that one lawmaker claims is broken down.

When Erie County Minority Leader Joe Lorgio tries to email Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, from his chief of staff's account, he gets a message that says, "you are not authorized to email this person."

Until recently, Lorigo says it was the same situation for him. The Minority Leader points to a 2016 email, from the County Executive's chief of staff, saying Poloncarz doesn't accept outside emails.

The 7 News I-Team asked, why this is now an issue. "I think it's an issue because we're finally in a situation where legislators are getting fed up with the way Mark Poloncarz is running county government," Lorigo said.

Lorigo says his relationship with the County Executive is "virtually non-existent."

Two years after the pandemic started, there is still a county-wide state of emergency in place. One would think communication is key in this circumstance.

But Lorigo says, after the County Executive's phone number was leaked, he changed it and refuses to release it to Republican lawmakers. Lorigo says, it's something he's had for a decade and that this is a further breakdown in communication.

"In a relationship that was already strained, because of our political differences, it's made it a non-existent relationship," Lorigo said.

The I-Team worked to arrange an interview with Poloncarz about this issue. Instead, his spokesman sent his thanks for the offer, saying "that won't be necessary."

He explained, "legislators all have the ability to call our office...at any time and also have the ability to email our office and the CE with any concerns at any time."

April Baskin released a statement to the I-Team on the issue. It says in part, "When Majority Caucus legislators have questions for the administration or want to set up calls or meetings or to invite members of the administration to address the legislature, they work through the Liaison."

The statement continued, "Given that the Legislative Liaison calls, meets and otherwise consults with both the Majority and Minority legislators and staff on a daily basis, and considering that this position has existed when both Democrats and Republicans have held the majority, it is bizarre to hear the Minority Leader claim that he has no way of initiating contact with the Poloncarz administration."

Again, Lorigo admits this seemingly changed recently, but believes it's because of the political battle that's being waged in public.

"These are typically things that would happen — not in the media — not that we're going to scream and yell about being disenfranchised. But the fact is, government isn't operating the way it's supposed to. The County Executive and Democratic legislators aren't really doing their jobs and it's time we get back to the normal legislative process."

The Democratic caucus released this statement to 7 News:

What is he citing as an example of us not doing our jobs? This whole thing feels like we are responding to someone claiming the Tooth Fairy is real and who then wants to suck us into a debate as to whether her frock is blue or gold. His entire premise is fantasy – the County Executive literally has an employee dedicated to facilitating work between the Legislature and the administration – one who works on a daily basis with both sides of the aisle. And now he says we aren’t doing our jobs? This is the same legislator who refused to deliver funding for community organizations in his district due to a fit of pique. He may not agree with the legislation we pass, but over the course of the past four years, the Democratic Majority has passed major legislation to improve life for the residents of Erie County, including one of the most comprehensive housing laws in the nation, a public health law that protects minors from tobacco, a program that delivered $19 million to small businesses hurt by the pandemic, a new Health Equity Law that focuses on the root causes of health disparities, and delivered hundreds of millions in funding for roads, parks, libraries and programs for youth and seniors. All while reducing the county tax rate to its lowest rate in more than a half century.

Lorigo is alluding to the fact that Erie County is still in a state of emergency, allowing the County Executive to make unilateral decisions. With a communication breakdown, Lorigo says he feels Poloncarz is working in a silo.

"Erie County is a county of nearly a million people," Lorigo said. "Not every person in erie county agrees with Mark Poloncarz on every issue. He should be open to hearing questions and criticism and debate."

A spokesman for the County Executive says, they have a legislative liaison whose only job is to be the middle man, between the County Executive and county lawmakers.

The spokesman says, lawmakers can set up a meeting anytime through this liaison, but says Lorigo has not shown an interest in doing so.