BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — In his second week on the job as newly sworn in Erie County Comptroller, Kevin Hardwick says he’s ready to get to work and be a trusted watchdog for taxpayers.
"There’s no question that Mark Poloncarz and Stefan Mychajliw didn’t see eye to eye on many things, they had a relationship that was very abrasive I don’t think that they were good partners in government and I hope that’s something I’ll be able to change," Hardwick said. "I will be a check on the Erie County Executive and other elected officials but at the same time I’ll also be their partner."
About a week before Hardwick, a Democrat, was sworn in, his predecessor Republican Stefan Mychajliw released a report detailing overtime payments made to county health commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein since she was appointed in 2012 to serve alongside county executive Mark Poloncarz .
The report demanded Burstein pay back more than $370,000 in overtime comp time and holiday pay that Mychajliw says she has collected since her tenure began.
The former comptroller claims Dr. Burstein, who was paid a base salary of $209,000 in 2021, is not eligible to collect overtime for a number of reasons.
Among them, Mychajilw says Dr. Burstein is required by state law to have a medical degree as part of her job title, and the CSEA contract the county follows says anyone who is a doctor is barred from collecting overtime.
Hardwick would not comment on that portion of the former comptroller’s report because it’s currently playing out in a court of law after several taxpayers filed this lawsuit, but he did comment on the OT numbers in that report.
"The report I think overstated the overtime by about $50,000 or $60,000," Hardwick said.
Hardwick says after careful review of the former comptroller’s report, what Mychajliw classified as 'overtime' totaling more than $336,000 was overstated.
Hardwick says to get to that number the former comptroller must have added comp time and put a dollar amount on days Burstein took off.
"It’s not like getting cash, it’s like getting time off there’s a difference because the time off doesn’t cost the taxpayers of Erie County any money," Hardwick.
Hardwick says he doesn’t quite know how the former comptroller got to the $336,148 figure over her tenure.
But Hardwick does agree that Burstein has received almost $285,000 in overtime pay, holiday pay and comp time cash buyout during the pandemic in 2020 and 2021.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz was visibly upset when we asked questions about Mychajliw’s report on Dr. Burstein’s overtime last month.
"Hell it’s probably even anti-Semitic knowing him," Poloncarz said. "Just know whatever [redacted] he’s going to pull just know he’s being paid by Big Dog Strategies to be a political operative, and he might be paid right now."
But in Poloncarz's COVID-19 briefing the following week apologized for his initial reaction.
"It was being taken as the truth when it’s not the truth," Poloncarz said. "We have the information we’ll share with you the data."
The 7 News I-Team has repeatedly asked the Poloncarz administration for what discrepancies in the numbers he says exists when it surrounds the payout for Dr. Burstein’s additional pay.
"It was inaccurate, it was wrong, and we’ll give you the accurate information, it’s a lot," Poloncarz said.
Hardwick says Poloncarz’s interpretation of the numbers and what he considers 'overtime' may be different.
"It depends on what you call 'overtime'" he said. "If you're including holiday pay, if you're including comp time buyout, if you're including the overtime then year you get up to that 280-something thousand dollar figure, and again Mark may not be willing to count that as overtime."
But Hardwick did confirm what Poloncarz said in his last COVID-19 briefing—Dr. Burstein was not the top overtime earner in 2020 and 2021.
Hardwick’s office says Dr. Burstein was the 10th highest overtime earner in 2021.
The top nine earners are employees of the Erie County Sheriff’s Office .
The highest earner is someone who works in the correctional facility from the sheriff’s office, who took home $163,034 in 2021 overtime.
We do not know the person’s position but do know the person is not a managerial confidential employee.
That does not include comp time buyout and holiday pay that is included in Dr. Burstein’s numbers.
"There was still a lot of overtime and many people would consider that excessive and I can certainly understand why people would get upset about that," Hardwick.
Hardwick says the numbers show Dr. Burstein earned the lion share of her overtime during 2020 and the first quarter of 2021, saying she has not been accumulating a lot of that in recent months.