Erie County’s two top elected officials are sparring once again — this time over a conference in Las Vegas that five county officials plan to attend.
Five officials of County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz’s administration have submitted travel requests at attend the National Homeland Security Conference from Aug. 30 to Sept. 2 in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand casino resort.
But County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw is criticizing the planned trip as a taxpayer-funded “junket” that will cost the county more than $7,000. He also accuses Poloncarz of hypocrisy because his appointees submitted the travel requests in February, when county officials were urging Western New Yorkers to stay home to stop the spread of Covid-19.
“Is this the best way to spend taxpayer dollars?” Mychajliw, a Republican, said in a news release and YouTube video. “If this junket is supposedly about homeland security issues, why are family members and guests of political appointees going? We need answers before this junket bill is paid.”
In a written statement, Poloncarz, a Democrat, pointed out that Buffalo hosted the conference 4 years ago and sending his appointees to Vegas makes it more likely the region will host it again.
“While the comptroller is always eager to attack the people trying to protect our community, in reality his ignorance of the Conference, its recent positive multi-million-dollar impact for Erie County, and its goals is disappointing and shows that he has not taken the time to learn more," Poloncarz's statement said. "Purposely misrepresenting the Conference, distorting the facts and smearing the dedicated public servant first responders taking part demonstrates once again that he puts scoring political points above protecting the safety of the county he ostensibly represents. Erie County deserves much better.”
The conference’s website states that the event “provides attendees with exceptional educational and informative sessions on best practices and emerging trends in Homeland Security and Emergency Management.” Poloncarz said past conferences have included trainings for mass shootings and this year’s includes segments on best practices during the Covid-19 response.
The proposed conference attendees include Jennifer Hibit, Poloncarz’s chief of staff; Vallie M. Ferraraccio, purchasing director; William Geary, public works commissioner; Daniel J. Neaverth, Jr., emergency services commissioner; and Melissa Calhoun, public safety officer and emergency services special assistant.
Mychajliw posted an email from a county employee online that stated two employees “are bringing guests to an event while at this conference.” The email stated that the guests were paying by personal check.
Mychajliw said he “is not paying the bill for the Vegas junket until numerous concerns are addressed by the Poloncarz administration before the Erie County Legislature.”