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Betty Jean Grant: GOP Staffer Had Prohibited Smartphone

Filed under: Erie County

Remember the little audit that wasn’t? It supposedly uncovered the Democratic legislative majority’s (which was actually a Republican-led coalition between 2010 – 2012, but who’s counting), wasteful spending on snacks and toner by the Democratic legislature over the last five years.

While political in purpose, I suspect that the review’s purpose was to weed out wasteful or improper spending, regardless of party. That’s not, however, how it’s shaken out. While Democrats were criticized for “troubling” and “blatant” waste and lack of oversight, the Republicans escaped criticism.

Minority leader Betty Jean Grant is accusing Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw of covering up improper cell phone use by a former Republican leg staffer and current Mychajliw employee, Bryan Fiume.

Grant specifically charges that Mychajliw’s office is whitewashing Fiume’s misdeeds.

Fiume worked at the legislature as Minority Chief of Staff, having been hired immediately after the January 2010 ‘Coalition’ fired 11 Democratic staff members in the reorganization that year.  Fiume moved over to the legislature from County Executive Chris Collins’ office that year, and Fiume remained as Minority Chief of Staff until late December 2013, when Mychajliw hired him as his Chief-of-Staff.

Democrats charge that Mychajliw’s hyperpartisan review of legislature spending omitted the fact that Fiume has been wasting Erie County money for years, after somehow gaining access to a taxpayer-paid Erie County smart phone, without ever telling anyone.

The legislature’s 2012 policies and procedures are here; the document for 2013 is here. The legislature expressly forbids any taxpayer-funded cellphones or smartphones for staff. Grant has now sent a request under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain Fiume’s cell phone records to find out what, exactly, the county paid for.

Betty Jean Grant FOIL

Below is the Comptroller’s review of “DISS Use and Control of Wireless Devices” (DISS stands for Department of Informational & Support Services) that was clocked into the legislature two weeks before the legislature’s review of expenditures. It received no attention, and no breathless hyperbole from the traveling Comptroller.

Comptroller Review of Wireless Devices in Erie County

The Wireless Devices’ review disclosed (PDF page 14) that Fiume had a County-issued smart phone during the review period – possibly from the time he left Collins’ office until the day he left the legislature.  He was, actually, the only legislative employee – staffer or elected – who had a county-issued phone. If you look at the policies and procedures shown above, they expressly state,

Cellular Telephone – Cellular telephones and other portable communication devices are not budgeted for [2012 and] 2013, and are not reimbursable expenses.

A communication from DISS submitted to the legislature following the Wireless Devices’ review indicated that Fiume surrendered the smart phone in late December 2013.  Grant wants to find out more details about this, because it’s possible that Fiume enjoyed the use of a contraband socialized smartphone for almost four years. In her FOIL letter, Grant writes,

…according to the Wireless Devices’ review, “Chapter X, Section 10, of the Erie County Personnel Policies and Procedures Manual details the official policy regarding the use of wireless telephones,” and specifically lists “key administrative staff” as employees eligible for use of such devices. As the former Chief of Staff for the Minority Caucus at the Legislature, not only did Mr. Fiume have no authority allowing him use of a taxpayer-paid smart phone pursuant to Legislature policy, he also was not in any “key administrative staff” position while employed by the Legislature.

County wireless policy further prohibits, as stated in the Wireless Devices’ review,“the transfer of wireless phones from departments or worksites and/or changes in services ‘without the direct authority of supervision’

Consider that this should have clearly fallen well within the five-year review period requested by Chairman John Mills, and also constitute “wasteful spending”;  such a low-level employee would have absolutely no legitimate public need for such a prohibited device.  Yet Mychajliw chose not to include this in the legislature review?  Why? Why did Fiume not surrender the smart phone when Collins left office?

Grant is also going to try to find out why the legislature had no information whatsoever about this hidden smartphone, which appeared in no contemporaneous budget documents, and in contravention of longstanding leg policy.

This is alarming not because of the amount of money involved – Fiume’s smartphone cost the people around $50 per month. It’s alarming because of the contravention of policy, and how the Comptroller’s office is playing politics with its role as watchdog. Mychajliw excoriated the Democrats for mistakenly overpaying a stamp reimbursement by $0.90, but is ignoring this apparent blatant violation of county rules and regulations by a close friend and aide.

That’s not how good government works.

 


  • Know Saint

    It’s a stinking COVER UP by the comptroller, protecting his buddies at the legislature (and their former chief of staff), and current staffer in Mychajliw’s office.

    It’s a stinking COVER UP by crooked politicians Mychajliw and Fiume!!!!!

    Why didn’t Mychajliw’s Deputy Comptroller for Audit, Christopher Musialowski, include this rip-off of tax dollars in his legislature review? It’s CLEARLY criminal in the theft of public tax dollars. Here’s why? Because Fiume is his BOSS, and Christopher Musialowski was COVERING UP for his boss!! Just like Stefan Mychajliw was COVERING UP for his buddy!!!

    Fiume fits right in with this Erie County Comptroller. HaHaHa!!!!

    The one dude was forced out when he hid a DWI conviction when Mychajliw hired him for his top staff position. Then the woman who was forced out after hiding the fact that she misled a security guard to open a locked storage room in order to lie and say sensitive records were left at the curb. Now, Mychajliw’s right hand man is caught hiding this smartphone which amounts to STEELING tax money from the legislature. And, new aide Christopher Musialowski hiding the Fiume THEFT from the legislature review when, as anyone with a brain can see in the items posted here, that Christopher Musialowski knew about this for WEEKS.

    How could Stefan Mychajliw and Christopher Musialowski think they could get away with not including this CRIME in the initial report?

    Stefan Mychajliw, Bryan Fiume and Christopher Musialowski are CROOKS!!!!!

  • hwhamlin

    Shorter Pundit:
    Republican = Satanic;
    Democrat = Saintly.

    • Not at all. “Shorter” version would be: Mychajliw says he’s just a nonpartisan watchdog, is really a partisan hack.

      • starrrbuck

        Mychajliw does seem like a partisan hack. I hope he eventually becomes politically damaged enough somehow that he won’t even try to run for higher office. Maybe his ignoring of the Republican smart phone spending could turn out to be part of that damaging.

        I still don’t regret voting for him in preference to Kevin Gaughan who was a worse choice in non-petty ways.

        Having the comptroller be a partisan hack of the opposite party (than county executive and/or legislature majority) isn’t ideal, but also isn’t the worst possibility as long as important functions of the comptroller’s office are performed competently for real audits, borrowing, etc.

        The non-audit review of legislature spending was a small positive thing to have happened. It identified small but real misuses of public money by Democrats, and perhaps it’s part of what motivated Betty Jean Grant to speak out against a misuse by a Republican. Both are good to shed light on. As Michael said, a pox on both. If not for that review, would Grant have gone public about the Republican smart phone spending? No way to know, perhaps.

        It’d be worse if there was cozy bipartisan disregard of misuses by both parties.

      • I get your points, but I think a comptroller can be a watchdog first and a party hack second. If they’re good at the former, I can put up with the latter. I think that’s how Poloncarz ran his shop, but then again Poloncarz was dramatically more experienced and qualified at this sort of thing.

      • UncleBluck

        I think maybe you need to delve into Steffan’s record in the private world of employment.The guy has had issue with the “truth” in the past and apparently it is still an issue…..

      • starrrbuck

        dramatically more experienced and qualified at this sort of thing

        The “sort of thing” has a lot to do with messaging and presentation in addition to substance. His legal experience might be a big difference maker in how he’s perceived, and/or it could be more to do with political talent and self awareness.

        Likely we won’t agree on this, but I think Poloncarz both as comptroller and C.E. was/is skilled at sounding convincingly, slickly above the partisan fray while still being brutally partisan, compared to Mychajliw who always seems like a used car salesman (and also compared to Collins who while C.E. was very unskilled in messaging and image).

        I happened to catch MP’s state of the county speech live on TWC/YNN somewhere that had it on recently. I’d never heard him speak for that long before – only in soundbites or interviews previously. It was impressively full of attacks at his past political opponent – delivered very calmly, smilingly, effectively.

        If Mychajliw were reading the exact same words of that speech, I’d think the attacks would’ve sounded very shrill. His political talents are more in schmoozing with voters at a retail level.

        It might be too early for comparing their substantive performance as comptroller on non-petty matters – and that comparison isn’t easy anyhow unless any big scandals or missteps happen.

  • allen markow

    Use your smartphone in bed in comfort with this great holder that magically floats your phone bedside. Now at Amazon… http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0074U2MAK.

  • A pox on both their houses.

  • 716Watcher

    WDMD – What Does Mychajliw Do?

    This is absolutely outrageous! Especially given the clear evidence – and it’s right there in black-and-white. Good for Grant calling for more information. How could the comptroller issue his spending review, but somehow miss this?

    Now the question for me is: what does Mychajliw do?

    Criminality and ethics questions aside (which are gigantic), what logic did the comptroller use to ignore Fiume’s wrongful use of a cell phone? Wow.

    This all seems very very sketchy…

  • starrrbuck

    Surprisingly, it looks as though Mychajliw had a good rebuttal to Grant’s cell phone accusations.

    I still think he’s a parisan hack in general. However, based on today’s reports from WBFO and WGRZ, it looks more as though it’s Betty Jean Grant (and her supporters) doing partisan hackery about Mychajliw’s role in anything related to the GOP staffer’s cell phone.

    http://news.wbfo.org/post/disputes-arise-over-county-issued-phones

    The comptroller says Fiume no longer has a county phone and nobody on his staff has a county phone. An April audit of cell phones across county government led its list of who had the phones with Fiume although he no longer had the county smart phone by this time.

    http://www.wgrz.com/story/news/2014/05/06/cell-phone-dispute/8751081/

    Grant has made two claims: first, that Mychajliw failed to criticize the use of the cell phone in his first audit of the Department of Information and Support Services, and secondly, that Mychajliw should have included this cell phone bill in his additional audit of the Erie County legislature this month.

    Mychajliw immediately fired back at Grant on multiple levels, defending his audit practices and accusing her of political grandstanding as she campaigns for State Senate. As for the first complaint from Grant – that he should have pointed out the cell phone issued to Fiume – Mychajliw noted that the audit did in fact list the cell phone at the very top of the list. … As for Grant’s claims that he should have noted the bill in his legislative audit, Mychajliw said it had no place in that audit because it is an interdepartmental expense paid for by the DISS, not the legislature.

    True?