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The “Audit” that Wasn’t an Audit

Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw took a break from his busy schedule visiting random cultural sites and eating lunches at various and sundry senior centers, and released an “audit” revealing $70,000 in expenditures over five years that Mr. Mychajliw doesn’t like. The new Republican majority in the legislature commissioned this “audit”, and the best anyone could do was to find about $14,000 per year in allegedly excessive spending each year between  2009 – 2013.

“Audit” gets scarequotes because it wasn’t an audit. Even Mychajliw’s office calls it what it was – a review. It was not subject to any of the requirements or restrictions necessary within an audit environment.

For a $1.1 billion operation, $14,000 per year isn’t that horrible. But don’t tell the Comptroller that.

The manner in which taxpayer dollars were spent is troubling. We are concerned by the blatant misuse of county funds. The lack of oversight on spending leaves us disheartened,” Mychajliw said in a statement announcing the release of the audit

That strong language is out of proportion with the actual findings. The findings showed some pretty mild incidents of  unnecessary and excessive spending, but no “blatant misuse” or some pervasive “lack of oversight”. When does Stefan’s campaign end?

Wasteful? There are a few items that could have been handled differently, but nothing excessive.  Take a look at the major findings.

The 45-page report details nearly $5,000 that the Legislature spent on personal items. These included expenditures for snacks that were provided to outside guests who were honored by legislators at their bimonthly meetings; flowers; a shoe rack and the cost to stock some district offices with toilet paper.

Here’s what Democratic minority chairwoman Betty Jean Grant said about the snacks:

…most the food was purchased for World War II, Korean, Vietnam and the current War Veterans who have served their Country and who are members of the Valor for Valor Committee I created to assist our veterans. The refreshment they consumed after the county hall meetings, were not nearly as expensive as some of the things they lost such as limbs and even the lives for those who did not make it back. Someone needs to be ashamed of this despicable show of narrow-mindedness.

And toilet paper. Toilet paper? Do you remember during the red/green budget fiasco of the last decade, when the county couldn’t afford to stock the bathrooms in the Rath Building with toilet paper, so Charmin donated a truck’s worth?  Setting aside for a moment whether district offices are necessary, if we’re going to have them, are we going to begrudge their bathrooms having county-funded toilet paper? What’s next? Toner? Paper?

The report also notes how the Legislature spent too much on toner for the printers it leased and how it continued to cover the cost of Internet access for one of the Democratic legislator’s district office nine months after it was destroyed by fire.

But better still is how Mychajliw’s release characterizes this:

The Legislature spent almost $5,000 for personal items like flowers, cakes, meals, shoe racks, toilet paper, stamps, potato chips, plastic utensils, tissues, cookies, even soil.

OMG EVEN SOIL!!1!

And if you still don’t think this was a wholly political play, regard this line from the exit conference section of the review:

During the Exit Conference, some concerns were addressed regarding the severity of some of these issues and the verbiage which was used in defining them. Due to this, verbiage in some instances within this report has been changed to more accurately reflect the issues found.

UPDATE: Did you catch this line? 

“I think the most important thing to note is the fact that the Legislature initially wanted us to look at just one year of spending,” Mychajliw said. “When we showed them what we found just over one year, they formally asked us to expand it to five years and go deeper.”

A correspondent notes that this comment is false.This letter from Legislator John Mills, dated February 18 specifically requests a five-year review. The Comptroller’s office’s review entrance letter is dated the same day (efficient!), and notes – ab initiothat the review will be for the 5 year period of Jan 1, 2009 to Dec 31, 2013.  So, the 5 year period was decided on day one, before any data had been compiled, transmitted, and well before any data had been reviewed. Indeed, none of the information was due until February 25th. Nobody ever “formally asked” anyone to “expand it to five years”. There exists no earlier letter asking for a one-year review.

I’ll grant you the internet access thing is, I suppose, “wasteful”, as is the retention of an official photographer – although the photographs are presented to recipients of various awards, and make these people feel appreciated.  But the review itself reveals that Time Warner is refunding the money. There is the matter of a 45-cent stamp for which a staffer was reimbursed three times. I offer that staffer my thoughts and prayers, as he or she works to repay that $0.90 debt to the county. This is petty within the literal meaning of that word, coming from the French petit or small.

We already know that honoring people is most of what the legislature accomplishes.  If you want to talk about wasteful spending, it’s can rationally be argued that having an Erie County Legislature is, itself, fundamentally wasteful; its ministerial, rote “functions” outweigh its discretionary ones.

To give you some perspective, here’s what I wrote about the toilet paper fiasco of ’05.

Charmin wants to donate a truck’s worth of Charmin to the Rath Building. George Holt has already allocated some of his member money to his brother’s son’s girlfriend’s shell company, which knows a guy who can get some toilet paper that fell off a truck. So, they don’t need Charmin.

Thankfully, that sort of intentional and pervasive George Holt/Chuck Swanick style corruption is long gone. So is member money.

This whole thing is a persuasive argument against the continuation of partisan elections for the legislature. If this had been in any way legitimate, it would have been undertaken without the “aha” confrontational tone. None of this stuff is a big, earth-shattering deal, and there is no evidence whatsoever of deliberate waste or wrongdoing. The excessive rhetoric in the review and its accompanying press materials belies the notion that this was an apolitical review of allegedly excessive spending.  It is, instead, a wholly political piece of campaign literature.

And you paid for it.


LD-3 Democrats Select Savage, Disrespect Females

The Erie County Democratic Committee selected loyal City Hall soldier Peter Savage III to fill the seat that Erie County Legislator Lynn Marinelli vacated in January. A vote Monday is expected to formalize the recommendation. Here is the press release that went out this past weekend: 

(Buffalo, NY) Democratic committee members in the 3rd Legislative District voted today to recommend Peter J. Savage III to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Lynn Marinelli. Savage currently serves as Senior Deputy Corporation Counsel in the City of Buffalo Department of Law.  He has worked in a number of roles in city government and served on the boards of West Side Neighborhood Housing Services and the Good Government Club of Western New York.

Erie County Democratic Committee Chairman Jeremy Zellner said, “I would like to congratulate Peter Savage on his decisive victory in today’s vote.  He will bring a wealth of knowledge and passion for his community to county government.  On Monday I am sending a letter to the Erie County Legislature calling on them to appoint Peter quickly.  The people of the 3rd Legislative District deserve representation.  I look forward to working closely with Peter and County Executive Mark Poloncarz to continue moving our party and community forward.”  

When Bob McCarthy wrote about the hand-wringing that’s taken place over the past few months over this, he focused on factionalism; whether Savage is too close to City Hall.  That is far from any reasonable point.  

Under normal circumstances, it would be good form for Democrats to nominate and select a female to replace an outgoing female – not because of any quotas, but because women are generally underrepresented in elective office. The Erie County Legislature has three women remaining in an 11 – person entity. Savage’s entry does nothing to change that. Frankly, because Democrats are supposed to stand for some semblance of gender equality, justice, and fairness, you’d expect that the 3rd District would get it together to recommend one of the qualified females to replace Marinelli. 

Michele Iannello is a veteran of the factional wars, so I can see the committee passing her over, but what about Jennifer Diagostino or Amber Small? You mean to tell me there did not exist one qualified female in the 3rd Legislative District to replace a female legislator? 

This is not to say Savage is unqualified – he surely is. I also don’t much care whether Savage was Deputy Mayor Steve Casey’s right-hand man. The question is one of judgment, and what it means to be a Democrat. 

My problem is that Savage carried Conservative Party petitions for Republican Chris Collins during the 2011 County Executive race against Democrat Mark Poloncarz. He carried petitions for a piece of garbage fusion party that opposes reproductive rights for women, same-sex marriage, and every other social justice item for which Democrats are supposed to stand. He carried those petitions in opposition to a qualified Democratic candidate who had a very difficult race. Some say that sort of thing is just politics as usual; I call it an unforgivable betrayal. 

City Hall was quite open about its support of Collins in 2011 – after all, many of the benefits then-extant legislative coup granting Collins a de facto legislative majority inured to City Hall.  The quo for that quid came about with some Republicans close to Collins reportedly helped Brown against Sergio Rodriguez last year. 

It’s also come to light that Chairman of the Conservative Party – Ralph Lorigo (whose son is a County Legislator) – lobbied the Tonawanda Democratic Committee on Savage’s behalf. The Conservative Party which, when it isn’t busy wielding political influence that it hasn’t really earned, is busy advocating for things Democrats are supposed to hate, like reduction in spending on social programs and education. The tea party, for God’s sake. 

Savage heads up a PAC called the “Committee for Change” and is active in Steve Pigeon’s “Democratic Action”. Board of Election filings reveal that the “Committee for Change” donated to Joe Lorigo, who is a Conservative Party member who caucuses with the Republicans. How, precisely, does “Committee for Change” back Democratic candidates, as claimed, if it’s supporting Conservative candidates? Based on this, what guarantee is there that Savage will caucus with the Democrats at all? 

That’s some change. 

Congratulations seem to be in order for young Mr. Savage. But the Democrats in the 3rd LD should take a good hard look in the mirror and ask themselves whom they’ve become. It’s still a man’s world when a guy who so actively campaigned against the Democratic County Executive can get a nod to replace a female on the county leg. It’s a sick joke that an active supporter of the notorious Conservative Party – which stands against everything the Democrats should – gets an appointment such as this. 

At this rate, I’m shocked that Kathy Weppner wasn’t under consideration. She’s a conservative and a woman, but lives outside that particular district. 


Open Letter to the Erie County Legislature

Greetings.

I am a constituent of Mr. Rath’s but am writing to you to inquire about a resolution sponsored by Mssrs. Lorigo, Rath, and Hardwick, which will oppose Governor Cuomo’s proposal to eliminate the “Wilson-Pakula” law, which enables party bosses to endorse other parties’ candidates.

I submit that eliminating Wilson-Pakula is hardly enough to reduce the power of money and patronage in politics, and our entire system of electoral fusion should be abolished, full stop. Electoral fusion and Wilson-Pakula are not used for good; they are used for political advantage and power. The Independence Party is essentially controlled by one marginally intelligent character from Long Island, and exists to enrich and employ him and his close followers. Its name is constructed so as to confuse low-information voters who think they’re registering as unenrolled.

The Conservative Party is controlled locally by Mr. Lorigo’s father, and has shown itself to be exquisitely flexible – when convenient – with respect to the “principles” on which it purports to base its endorsements.

In my town of Clarence, the Conservative endorsement for Supervisor was allegedly withheld not on any ideological grounds, but partly due to personal animus, and partly due to private business interests. That’s the stuff of petty banana republics.

Political decisions and government leadership should be based on merit, not on personal vendettas or misinformation. The system of electoral fusion should be well known to the legislature, as the Independence Party was intimately involved in the so-called “coup” which took place in early 2010 whereby the Republican caucus joined with several breakaway Democrats to create an ersatz “majority”.

That was one of the most embarrassingly tumultuous periods for the Legislature and cheapened it and its mission, such as it is. If the Conservative and Independence Parties want to participate in New York or Erie County politics, Mr. Lorigo and Ms. Dixon have established that members of those parties can run and win.

But if anyone’s goal – at any point – is to establish a cleaner, more honest, and less corrupt political environment, then eliminating Wilson-Pakula is a great first step. Banning fusion altogether is an ultimate goal.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Alan Bedenko


Zydel announces candidacy for Erie County Legislature

ZYDEL_8280Former Cheektowaga Council Member Richard Zydel today announced that he is a candidate for the Erie County Legislature in the 7th legislative district. He made the formal announcement Tuesday night at an official campaign kickoff event attended by a full house of committeemen and supporters.

Zydel works in the law enforcement field, and is a Supervisory Contract Detention Officer at the Federal Detention Center in Batavia, where he has been employed since 1998. A lifelong resident of Cheektowaga, Zydel and his wife Pamela live in the Cleveland Hill area of North Cheektowaga. They have one daughter, Alyssa, who is 12.

Additionally, Zydel has been involved in community organizations in leadership roles. He served as Vice President and President with the Doyle Hose Company #1 Company and continues to maintain active involvement with the volunteer fire community in Cheektowaga.

In 2007, Zydel was elected to the Cheektowaga Town Board, and served as Chairman of the Youth and Recreation, and Traffic Safety committees, and in addition, provided oversight of the town’s Veterans Affairs Committee and Volunteer Firefighters Committee.

Zydel cited the lack of adequate representation and a loud voice at the county level for the residents of Cheektowaga and South Buffalo as his reason for seeking a seat on the County Legislature.

“Both of the communities which comprise the current 7th district have always had strong and hands on leaders. In Cheektowaga, long time legislators Richard Slisz and Ray Dusza were very active stewards for our town and its interests. In South Buffalo, I can cite the names… Mike Fitzpatrick, Mark Schroeder, Tim Kennedy, Tim Whalen. All these men represented that part of the city with passion and dedication at the county level.”

Continuing, Zydel said, “Today our voice in county government is all but non existent. Ask yourself who your county legislator is, where you might have seen him, and exactly what constituent services does he and his office provide. We need to do better. That is the message I will be taking door to door as I go to the streets of Cheektowaga and South Buffalo this summer.”

Zydel is a registered Democrat and will be seeking the endorsement of the Democratic Party. He served as Executive Vice Chair of the Cheektowaga Democratic Committee from 2006-2007, a post he relinquished when he was elected to the Cheektowaga Town Board.

The 7th legislative district comprises most of the Town of Cheektowaga, excluding the Village of Depew and the Southline neighborhoods, and also includes portions of the South Buffalo and Kaisertown neighborhoods in the City of Buffalo.


SAFE Hysterics

I vaguely remember a White Plains police officer visiting my elementary school to instruct us on safety or being polite or some other inculcation of “how to be a civilized person”. Most of the boys in my class, myself included, were fascinated with the handgun the officer carried on his Batman-like utility belt. He was peppered with questions about how he likes it, whether he’s ever shot it, whether he’s ever had to use it, whether he’s ever shot anyone with it, and – naturally, whether we could touch it. The answers were all in the negative. Yet something stuck with me that day; not only had the officer never used the gun in the line of duty, but his respect for his weapon was matched only by his dislike for it. He hadn’t used it, and he expressed a hope that he would never have to. It was there, but only as a last resort – and he seemed aware that it wasn’t just loaded with bullets, but that each bullet could do as much damage to a human body as it could to the officer’s own psyche. 

Forget Sandy Hook and the federal government for a second – let’s talk about New York and the SAFE Act, which Albany passed a month ago. A lot of New York gun owners are upset about the law, and they will be going to Albany lawfully to protest it. They seem particularly aggrieved by the fact that; (a) Governor Cuomo executed a message of necessity, speeding the passage and avoiding legislators’ amendments to it; and (b) the technicalities with respect to some of the law’s definitions. 

You can disagree with those matters, of course, but they don’t amount to dictatorship, nor do they seem violative of the 2nd Amendment

Here is a nonbinding resolution that the Erie County Legislature’s Republican caucus will be introducing shortly: 

SAFE ACT Resolution by

(You don’t use an apostrophe to pluralize “New Yorkers”)

So, basically it praises every single portion of the NY SAFE Act, except that the definition of an assault weapon may allegedly include one particular pump-action shotgun (a particularly tenuous argument), and because it limits magazines to 7 bullets, rather than the previous 10. 

How is it that 10 bullet magazines are not violative of the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms, but 7 bullet magazines are tantamount to King George III stepping on the necks of patriots? 

Carl Paladino sponsored a bus trip / gun rally in Albany Tuesday, and his mass email doesn’t think the SAFE Act was legally passed, or a good idea at all. One unifying theme between Paladino and the County Legislature’s Republicans is the notion that there wasn’t enough time to “request and receive the input of constituents” regarding the law; but 2/3 of New Yorkers support it. Paladino’s list of grievances is amusing, however, for alleging that “there is no need for any change to current gun-control laws because it’s not the honest people who commit crimes.”  

You know what might be contributing to the gun violence? The Randian individualism that many gun huggers love – the ethos that nothing is greater than self, civilization and a functioning society be damned. The hippie peace and love individualist awakening has gone dramatically wrong in the last 40-some years. 

Another favorite argument is that registration is just a step towards confiscation. Just like the state has confiscated all our motor vehicles, which we are required to register from time to time. 

While Paladino’s protest reflects exactly how our system is supposed to work – government does something you don’t like, you protest and petition or agitate for something different, the legislature’s grandstanding is an utter waste of time and effort. Its nonbinding resolution is pointless, and its grievances largely without substance. 

Back to that mid-70s White Plains cop – I get the impression nowadays that gun owners have become gun huggers. They no longer view their weapons as tools they may someday be forced to use as a last resort for protection, but as objects for which they have almost a jealous longing.  They want to use them. 


Political Shorts

1. I am hearing that ex-County Exec Chris Collins is telling people that he’s going to run against Kathy Hochul for Congress in 2012. The redistricting issue is not yet settled, so it’s unknown what Hochul’s district will look like. If true, it immediately reminds me of the story in the Buffalo News in early 2010 whereby Collins – angrily, his natural state – confronted Hochul over whether she would be running against him for County Executive. As we all know, wealthy unemployed person Chris Lee went looking for sex with transexuals on Craigslist, resigned his Congressional seat, and Hochul went on to defeat Collins’ neighbor, Jane Corwin in May.

2. I’ve always been curious about the connection between Entercom and the SPCA – the hearts of some of the ultra-conservative hosts on Entercom bleed for animals while they have little compassion for down-on-their-luck humans. A tipster (actually, it’s the guy we all know as Doc Maelstrom, whoever he might be) emails the following with respect to the current controversy surrounding the Niagara County SPCA:

For the sake of disclosure it should be revealed that the President of the Niagara County SPCA, Brandy Scrufari, works for the President of the Erie County SPCA, Larry Robb, at WTSS radio. Robb is VP/GM of WTSS and several other Entercom radio stations where Brandy Scrufari has been working for the past 20 years. To have the Erie County SPCA scrutinize the claims of cruelty against the Niagara County SPCA is disingenuous considering the relationship Scrufari and Robb have had for two decades. Do not expect this investigation to reveal anything that Scrufari does not want revealed.

http://www.niagaraspca.org/Board%20of%20Directors_1

http://www.yourspca.org/page.aspx?pid=511

3. The atmosphere at yesterday’s Erie County Legislative reorg session was nothing like the last one, where the so-called “reform coalition” broke away to create a de facto Collins-friendly Republican legislative majority caucus. In 2009, when staffers were fired, Sheriffs were on hand to intimidate and impliedly threaten. Yesterday’s session, where Betty Jean Grant was unanimously elected chairwoman, was downright friendly. There was camaraderie among the legislators and their staffs, there were smiles, handshakes, and relief. The session took a little over an hour, whereas 2009’s went on for hours. While there is already some acrimony over borrowing versus spending from the general fund, yesterday’s session bodes well for a more functional and less acrimonious 2012 – 2014. There was some staff turnover yesterday, but I frankly detected more relief than anything even from those who didn’t know what their fate would be.

Here are some reminders from 2010:


Irony

I was unable to attend the Erie County Legislature’s final session of 2011, which was the last for six lawmakers, including Chairwoman Barbara Miller-Williams.

Miller-Williams led a breakaway faction of three Democratic legislators who aligned themselves with the Republican majority, thus helping Chris Collins move forward with an agenda that was oftentimes at odds with that of Miller-Williams’ constituents.

Chris Smith and I did this video two years ago to explain it all (language NSFW)

The Buffalo News reports this:

“I implore you to please put people before politics,” Miller-Williams told her colleagues as the meeting wrapped up. “It’s always the right thing to do.”

Ironic, seeing as how Ms. Miller-Williams seldom took her own advice on that point. Unless, of course “putting people before politics” has something to do with ensuring political jobs for certain people.

Reacting to Miller-Williams, Joseph N. Welch had this to say:


Erie County Posturing

I’m hearing that the Democratic majority in the Erie County Legislature may be in jeopardy; that a couple of legislators are busily trying to cut side deals regarding jobs and the chairmanship.

Are we looking at another January of fail, or will people get to work and start tackling big problems and big ideas, rather than angling for patronage and influence?




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