Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz not only doesn't want to dissolve the political patronage pit known as the Erie County Water Authority. He wants to make it bigger.
Poloncarz announced a series of “proposed reforms” in a Friday news conference, where he became the latest elected official to weigh in on the growing controversy at the authority in the wake of a scathing state audit.
The county executive proposed adding four new political appointments to the board -- two made by the county executive and two by the governor. Those would be in addition to the three currently made by the county legislature, increasing the total number of commissioners from three to seven. He also proposed cutting pay for commissioners, lengthening their terms and amending the law to mandate more public input and public reporting requirements for the authority.
Poloncarz points to the board of the Buffalo Public Library and Erie Community College as boards with more members that do not become political flash points. His thinking is that adding members and staggering the terms will make it harder for any one political party to control the board.
“The Water Authority is truthfully the political football game that never ends,” Poloncarz said. “What this does is it will create a much more non-political organization because the terms are spread out over the longer terms of the county executive and the governor and the legislature.”
The Authorities Budget Office wants Democratic commissioner Jerome Schad gone from the board, but Poloncarz is standing by his man.
Public records show Schad has donated to Poloncarz's political campaigns 26 times and has given him more than $5,000. He added that he has raised more than $1 million on various political campaigns and Schad donated only $5,000.
Specht: “Isn’t that part of the problem, the political back-scratching?”
Poloncarz: “Jerry is just like others in the process who have made donations to me or made donations to the Republicans. If you look at the Republican commissioners, they all gave donations to elected officials, too.”
Poloncarz said his stance when it comes to defending Schad comes not from political donations but from the fact that Schad is a lawyer and would not engage in unethical behavior that could jeopardize his law license.
Poloncarz can't make any of his proposed changes on his own. Instead, he would need the State Legislature to act, which would likely require unanimous votes from the county legislature.
Sources in the Republican caucus of the legislature say Republicans are open to new ideas but they think adding commissioners to the board would only create more political patronage.