The ECWA and Patronage

County Executive Mark Poloncarz’s brother, Robb, got a job with the Erie County Water Authority. Robb is a trained chef – I actually ate his food once when he worked at Epcot a few years ago. At the Norwegian restaurant, where my girls got to meet various and sundry Disney Princesses. 

Is Robb qualified to help run the ECWA? Well, compared to whom? He hasn’t yet passed a civil service exam for the position. It’s pretty obvious that Robb’s hiring has a great deal to do with his last name, and that’s not how a meritocracy works. 

But the ECWA is no meritocracy. 

If we’re going to have civic outrage over a countywide department hiring the County Executive’s brother – and the ECWA has a long, well-documented history of being a pit of patronage; a place where elected officials can find cush jobs as a “thank you” for loyal supporters, then isn’t it time to demand legislation to change it? 

It’s run by Lackawanna Democratic Chair, property  manager, and jeweler Fran Warthling. Pigeon loyalist Jack O’Donnell is Treasurer. The Vice Chair was Marilla supervisor. The executive director, at least, has an engineering background, and has had a series of patronage jobs, including the Lackawanna housing authority. The deputy director has a background in finance and was the Administrator of the Village of Bergen. 

If you don’t want these positions to be filed through political favoritism, then demand that changes be implemented. But ask yourself this: does the ECWA’s existence as a patronage destination harm your water cost or delivery in any palpable way? If so, how? Or is this just being angry that people are getting jobs because of whom they know? Because lots of people – private and public sector alike – get jobs that way. 

23 comments

    • So, you have nothing to say about the thing you demanded an article about?

      Who’s weak, now?

      • You essentially just apologized for Mark letting this happen, “it’s not his fault it is just the system”. Well the reality it is his fault and it should start with him saying he is not going to go along with business as usual. How about he takes a real stance and not only distances himself completely from the chef turned contract expert, assuming Mark knew nothing of his brother’s desire to become a ecwa employee sans testing, and Mark takes it a step further and asks his comptroller, you know the job he had, and demands a audit of the place.
        Now that is leadership.

        But you seem to think it is a victimless move by our new executive, and made it clear above, that is why I said weak, that it is not Mark or his position, or his brother it is a system that no one can apparently resist, or are required to play in. And just ask yourself does any corruption harm the delivery of a public service? I think that one can easily be answered in the affirmative.

        • What’s corrupt about it? I don’t even think Poloncarz should apologize for it. Frankly, I think he should own it and say, yeah, I hired my brother to fill an open position. He needed a job, he’s qualified, and he’s my brother. It’s not like he created the job for him, and it’s not like the job could be demonstrably done any better or worse than anyone else for the 45k it pays. 

          You say “easily be answered in the affirmative”, yet you offer no example whatsoever of any tangible, measurable way in which you’re harmed by it. So, yes – it can easily be answered with “Germany” or “lollipop”, but neither of those answers would be any more or less persuasive than what you’ve provided. 

          • You’re his friend. And If you believe what you just wrote above shame on you.
            Ps 55k plus benes.
            Would you had felt the same way if the chef’s last name was Collins?

          • Are you suggesting that Collins didn’t insert friends and families into available patronage spots? 

          • You really stepped into it this time, and the guy above is right even the appearance of impropriety should be avoided, and WNY certainly does not need this kind of behavior.

            It’s simply a patronage gig and someone will come looking for a favor and that will need to be returned and it will likely not be something in the communities best interest but a personal interest of someone in a gov position.

            Alan you. Can spend all day on this but no one is going to buy this is good for anyone but the few involved.

            Shame on Mark, shame on the ecwa.

          •  If Chris did you would have been ripping him a new asshole about it. 

        •  If it was Chris Collin’s brother I’m pretty sure Alan would have a completely different tone about it.

  • “Does the ECWA’s existence as a patronage destination harm your water cost or delivery in any palpable way?”

    Among the many sins in Sin City Las Vegas, the greatest is the low cost of water – its cheaper there than it is here. I can only imagine that if qualified water people were running the water authority, the costs would be lower, the infrastructure better maintained, and the process as efficient as good industry standards allowed. This idea is so self-evident, I’m not even sure how to argue for it. Would you want water people as your chef? Lawyers as truck drivers? Engineers as doctors? Doesn’t education, training and experience count for something – if not, maybe we should just write every job in Buffalo government on a deck of cards, throw them in the air, and whoever picks up one gets that job.

    • Strong, how about the golden parachute for the director I believe I read somewhere it is 300k, cause he was going to go somewhere else and is irreplaceable.
      No one needs to ask themselves if this is a problem, it is a huge problem.

    • Brian – we’re talking about management, not the actual people maintaining the system. 

      • I know, but what’s your point? That the managers don’t affect the efficiency or quality of the system? Then the job should not exist. You wrote below that the job could not be done better or worse by anyone – really? It is a job without qualifications or impact of any type? Then the job should not exist.

        FWIW, I bet the job does have impact, and qualified people could do better than chefs. So a qualified person should have been hired, and the water system would be run better for it. I can’t believe I even had to write that out. 

    • This.  What an odd piece.

  • I can’t speak too much to the ECWA, but the Niagara Falls Water Board is basically the same thing. In 2011, employee costs (payroll, benefits, etc) accounted for 49% of operating expenses at $11.2M. NFWB employees get free healthcare for life after retirement.

    Our water rates up here are extremely high, and like most places, our sewer rates are simply a formula based off water usage. When I put water in my pool, I pay sewer fees. Yeah….

    Robb Poloncarz getting a patronage position isn’t that big a deal. The question is if that position was even needed in the first place, no matter who was filling it. 

  • Someone challenges me on what I would have written if it had been Collins’ brother. Not that it matters, but I’ll take that on. 

    I went back through my archives going back to the Keane-Collins race in 2007. I’ll note a few things: 

    1. The candidate who ran on a pledge to reform the Erie County Water Authority was named “Jim Keane”. He lost. 

    2. Likewise, Collins did nothing to reform the ECWA. I never criticized him for it, once. 

    3. I wrote several pieces critical of the way in which the Erie County Legislature, which at the time had been undermined by DINO Pigeonista Collins-allied turncoats, selected commissioners for the ECWA. 

    http://buffalorecord.wordpress.com/2010/05/25/going-on-1911/ 

    http://buffalorecord.wordpress.com/2010/05/27/legislature-selects-jack-odonnell-as-erie-county-water-commissioner/ 

    That was about the extent of what I had to say about it. 

    4. I mistakenly wrote that Robb Poloncarz was hired as one of these commissioners. He wasn’t. He was hired as a “contract monitor”.  This is not some no-show commissioner’s job, but an actual position within the ECWA with genuine duties, as set forth in this Channel 2 piece: http://www.wgrz.com/news/article/179894/37/Brother-Of-Erie-County-Executive-Hired-By-Water-Authority. 

    5. I’d ask the people asking me what I’d have written re: Collins hires what they wrote in reaction to Michael Mallia getting hired at Elections after helping to screw up the Corwin campaign. http://buffalorecord.wordpress.com/2011/10/19/running-the-county-like-honduras/

    6. Links. They’re more persuasive. 

    • Yes with real duties that I am sure there are many more qualified people to be in that position, also when is the civil servant test to see if he should be there, or is this his training period to see if he can get up to speed to pass the test when, i think they get a year, it is eventually given?

      Is whole thing stinks and is just another black eye for WNY.

  • I expected better than this from Mark. He’s a lawyer, and thus learned as one of the central canons of ethics that “A lawyer should avoid even the appearance of impropriety.”

    Sorry, but I’m too busy to look up the cite to that.

  • “But ask yourself this: does the ECWA’s existence as a patronage destination harm your water cost or delivery in any palpable way? If so, how?”

    Well, is it true that we pay twice as much as they do in Phoenix (rumored to be located some distance from any of the Great Lakes) for a gallon of water? 

    Why, yes it is true http://www.buffalonews.com/editorial/20060423/1028021.asp 

    Well then, the patronage hackerama that is the ECWA does harm our water cost in a “palpable way”. Can’t get more “palpable” than that.

    Glad to welcome Robb Polancarz to the slop trough.

  • Nobody put more friends in place than Jimmy Griffin.  And nobody got more done than Jimmy Griffin.  It’s a matter of having trusted friends/relatives in the right places to get things moving.

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