Fusion Voting Jamboree

The 5th Legislative District seat is so hot that people are tripping over themselves to obtain an infinitesimal electoral advantage through ballot shenanigans, including the outrageous and corrupt practice of electoral fusion. “Opportunity to Ballot” petitions were filed for two party lines in that district race. Republican county legislature staffer and Lancaster GOP Committee Chair Robert J. Matthews filed an OTB last Thursday for the Working Families Party – a fusion party not known for its close ties to the anti-labor Republicans. This is the same district where Nick Langworthy filed Green Party petitions for Lynnette Batt.

That’s some abrupt Republican love-fest with left/labor political parties!

An OTB for the Green Party and Working Families Party was also filed in LD-8, currently held by Republican Ted Morton.

All of this is a cheap farce. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a Dem filing a Green or WFP petition, or a Republican filing a Green or WFP OTB petition. All of it is sleazy, all of it treats the electorate like cattle, and the entire ballot access and fusion systems in New York.

Somewhere recently, I stumbled upon these digital leavings from an obsessed fan:

Alan Bedenko, a local Democratic blogger and self-styled paragon of political virtue, has complained bitterly about these Republican efforts, but remains mysteriously silent on the activities of his pals Poloncarz and Zellner.   Maybe Bendeko wants to safeguard his law firm’s business with Erie County by not biting the hand that feeds?   Or is it Poloncarz appointments he so covets?  At least Langworthy isn’t attempting to steal the Green line.  If he was, he would have circulated an OTB petition for his candidate, Guy Marlette.   Looks like Langworthy didn’t start the war, he’s just playing defense.

I’m not sure that this article was “complaining bitterly” rather than simply pointing out how ridiculous the system has become. My mysterious silence had to do with the simple fact that Langworthy had submitted the petitions in the past tense, while “my pals Poloncarz and Zellner” had done no such thing by that point. So, it would seem to me to be premature to condemn something that hadn’t yet happened; after all, it doesn’t matter for whom you circulate petitions if you don’t file them.

I certainly don’t “covet” any further appointments – my appointment to serve as an unpaid volunteer on the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library board wasn’t something I sought, and I have already disclosed my firm’s representation of Erie County on multiple occasions. So, I suppose I’d respond by noting that probably no one in western New York has written more articles critical of New York’s fusion voting system than I. Indeed, ever since the days of Joe Illuzzi’s politico-financial love affair with one-time Independence Party chair Tony Orsini, I have written countless articles about how fusion and cross-endorsements count among the very roots of corruption in New York politics – unless you abolish fusion, no effort to clean up politics can be successful.

I think that the Green Party’s ballot should be unmolested by Democrats and Republicans alike – I find it unseemly that a Green OTB was filed for any candidate of any other party. As for the others – Working Families, Independence, Conservative – all of them should be forced either to run their own candidates or fold. The Independence fusion Party is a patronage pit designed to trick voters who intended to register as what New York calls “unenrolled”. It’s no accident that, at various times its line has been within the sole control of Steve Pigeon. The Conservative fusion Party also has an unholy alliance with Pigeon from time to time, especially insofar as it helps serve the dual purpose of (a) helping Republicans; and (b) sabotaging the Democratic committee.

As a partisan Democrat (I’m also a committeeman – full disclosure!) I deplore and denounce the use of fusion voting and minor parties, regardless of who’s doing it. All of it is designed to cheapen and degrade our system.

The Heroin Epidemic & Erie County

The Buffalo News’ headline announces that there have been ten heroin overdoses in just 24 hours. People throughout WNY are dying after taking a deadly mixture of heroin and fentanyl. Erie County Health Commissioner Gale Burstein calls it a “public health crisis”. It’s not limited to any one neighborhood or town – it’s regional. We are apparently on track for overdoses to double those of 2014.

In 2007, the Erie County Legislature received $1.4 million from Albany to fund a program “targeting drug abuse among young people.” Then-County Executive Joel Giambra supported the program, and the control board was on board with the county’s participation.

In 2008, new County Executive Chris Collins abruptly pulled the county out of the program before it had even had a chance to begin. Why?

Collins’ deputy, Mark Davis, who has been reviewing a long list of county contracts, deemed it not in the best interest of county taxpayers, aides said.

…Collins administration officials reasoned that county caseworkers already focus on drug abuse, as do numerous not-for-profit organizations. The county also was expected to provide an office and computer equipment for what was going to become a new unit, so the program was not totally free to Erie County taxpayers.

Further, Collins and Davis did not want the 20 new unionized employees, to be represented by Local 815, Civil Service Employees Association, to become the county’s responsibility if the grant money dried up after the first three years, the aides said.

The County under Chris Collins pulled out of a specialized program to tackle drug abuse because “the taxpayer”.

“Under the grant, New York State dictated how the program would run,” said Collins spokesman Grant Loomis, “and the administration does not feel those terms make for an efficient program.”

Loomis said the county is asking the state and its Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services whether Erie can use the money to hire private or nonprofit agencies that target drug abuse.

So, a program that was funded by Albany and approved by a prior administration, the county legislature, and the control board were just set aside unilaterally by Chris Collins. To be fair, Collins had an alternative proposal – that the county would spend the $1.4 million to hire more counselors at ECMC, but that’s not the same.

“I’m really not happy about this,” said Legislator Robert B. Reynolds, D-Hamburg, one of the lawmakers who want to know how Collins can abandon a program, especially one that helps young people, after the Legislature and the control board had approved.

Since Erie is New York’s largest upstate county, with a large number of child-protective cases, it was to be an “evaluation county” whose experience with the program would determine whether it should continue.

At the time, people were scrambling even to find out if what Collins had done was legal. Did he have the authority to simply disregard previously voted-on and approved county actions?

The Legislature gives the county executive authority to sign contracts, but it is unclear what happens when the county executive decides not to or wants to cancel a contract.

The county’s state-appointed Fiscal Stability Authority cannot affect Collins’ decision.

“Under our authority, we review and approve or disapprove county contracts of $50,000 and above,” said Chairman Anthony J. Baynes. “Even if we approve a contract, if someone decides at a later date that they do not want to enter into the contract or to cancel that agreement, that’s not within our scope.”

Collins’ staff is drafting a letter to lawmakers explaining his reasoning. Meanwhile, Legislator Thomas J. Mazur, D-Cheektowaga, is among those who want an opinion from the Legislature’s new lawyer.

“I don’t think he can just pull the plug on a project like that,” Mazur said.

The County Legislature reacted in May 2008 with a resolution, “Opposition to the County Executive’s Termination of a 100% State-Funded Grant to Provide Substance Abuse Services for At-Risk Families“:

2008 Erie County Resolution Re: Substance Abuse

The matter was referred to the committee on health and human services, and the only member to vote against sending it to the full legislative body was Ed Rath. The full legislature voted on the resolution, and the minutes record: “MR. MAZUR moved to approve item Number 3. MR. REYNOLDS seconded. MR. MILLS, MR. RANZENHOFER, MR. RATH and MS. IANNELLO voted in the negative. CARRIED. (10-4).”

In hindsight, it’s shameful and anti-democratic that the County Executive was permitted to simply refuse to implement a program that the legislature and his predecessor had pushed forward and approved, with support from the control board. Government ought to help and protect its poorest and most vulnerable, and Mr. Collins – who has since been promoted to Congress – not only abdicated that role repeatedly during his tenure as County Executive, but did so by simply ignoring duly enacted laws and procedures. Having pledged to run government “like a business”, I’d be wary of any business that would act with such cavalier disregard to the dictates of its board of directors. I’d avoid any business that would refuse to participate in a cost-free program to help vulnerable customers struggling with substance abuse.

NYCLU Sues Erie County Sheriff

The New York Civil Liberties Union is suing the Erie County Sheriff’s Office over its use of cellphone surveillance. The Stingray device is used by law enforcement to locate and track people; it mimics a cell tower, prompting a cell phone to transmit its location and identifying information.

Although a warrant is not always needed for some surveillance, sometimes it is.

Via Slate

 

The problem isn’t just broad-based surveillance of people’s cell phone signals, but the fact that law enforcement agencies refuse to comply with Freedom of Information requests seeking data on how and how often the Stingray is used.

NYCLU is suing the Erie County Sheriff over its refusal to turn over information on its use of Stingrays, pursuant to FOIL:

“The Sheriff’s Office has spent more than $350,000 since 2008 on this surveillance equipment – it is ridiculous for them to suggest they have no paperwork or records on the matter,” said NYCLU staff attorney Mariko Hirose. “The blanket denial of our entire request, without any explanation, only underscores their wholesale disregard for the right to privacy.”

She also questioned the sheriff’s claim that the information the NYCLU is seeking could reveal criminal investigative techniques or endanger the life or safety of a person. She said the information “will enhance the public’s understanding of the sheriff’s use of Stingrays.”

The NYCLU says the surveillance devices were developed for military use and are about the size of a briefcase. It says the devices mimic cellphone towers and surreptitiously prompt cellphones in their vicinity to deliver data to them.

“Armed with Stingrays,” it says, “law enforcement can – without any assistance or consent from cellphone carriers – pinpoint a person’s location in the home, in a place of worship or in a doctor’s office, collect the phone numbers that a person has been texting and calling, and in some configurations, intercept the contents of communications.

“Stingrays also can be used to conduct mass surveillance on people in an area, whether for a protest or a lecture or a party,” it says. “Even when used to target a particular suspect, Stringrays sweep up information about innocent individuals who happen to be in the vicinity.”

Good for NYCLU. It’s not that law enforcement shouldn’t have this tool; it’s that we have a right to know how it’s used, and whether it’s being appropriately used.

BREAKING: Erie County Legislature Does its Job

Logo_ErieCo_tpKudos to the members of the Erie County Legislature for acting like grown-ups (for the most part), and reasonably negotiating a 2015 budget that will lower the tax rate to under $5.00/$1,000 of assessed value, and ensuring that cultural and library funding remains in place.

The Republican majority trimmed about $2 million from County Executive Mark Poloncarz’s original budget proposal, and $300,000 was added to protect culturals.

There was some acrimony at the start of the session, with the Democratic minority complaining that the Republicans had not provided a breakdown of its proposals to them in advance. The session likely took longer than it needed to because of that, but in the end the budget was passed unanimously.

I’m still of the opinion that county government, whose main job is to act as a pass-through for state funding, is superfluous and unnecessary.  Abolishing county government is something I’ve been talking about since the budget crisis from the last decade, but it’s no less relevant now. The vast majority of what the legislature does is mandated and ministerial. Do we need this entire stratum of government to debate the small percentage of stuff that’s discretionary?

Pigeon, AwfulPAC Reportedly Under Investigation

Credit: Steve Pigeon, Via Twitter

It seems that when Erie County Democrats aren’t battling local Republicans, they’re busy ripping each other to shreds.  In its biennial outbreak of trench warfare between various Democratic factions, the party is too distracted by insider nonsense to remember how to win key elections.

In 2013, the Democratic headquarters/Jeremy Zellner faction endorsed several candidates for the county legislature, as well as Bert Dunn for county sheriff. The Steve Pigeon faction backed different candidates for all of those races, including Dick Dobson for sheriff. On its face, that’s no big deal – primary races during primary season.

But what may have started out as a typical Pigeonesque trolling of county HQ has developed some serious legs.

The suspected Pigeon modus operandi is to use go-betweens and shell corporations or LLCs to funnel money to, from, and between his candidates and certain campaign consultants and companies to do lit, polling, signs, and media buys. They use rhetorical sledgehammers to demolish their opponents with whatever smear they can muster – ask Sam Hoyt. It’s all a well-oiled machine that has few accomplishments, other than spending other people’s money and occasionally harming Democratic candidates in general elections.

The problem is that apparent campaign finance and disclosure violations are seldom investigated and almost never prosecuted.  At least, not in Erie County.

In 2013, Pigeon and erstwhile political commentator Kristy Mazurek set up the “WNY Progressive Caucus”.  It was set up as a PAC – the election law doesn’t use that term, but as an unauthorized committee, the WNYPC could raise and spend money to donate to specific campaigns, but was not allowed to coordinate with them, or spend money on their behalf. I called it “AwfulPAC”.

In early September 2013, just weeks before primary day, the WNYPC paid for thousands of pieces of literature to be mailed to voters, slamming legislative candidates backed by party headquarters; most notably, Tim Hogues, Betty Jean Grant, Wynnie Fisher, and Lynn Dearmyer. By way of example, one piece of WNYPC lit slammed Hogues for being a “Republican”, and promoted the candidacy of his challenger, Barbara Miller-Williams – a woman who quite literally conspired with Republicans to mount a legislative coup in 2010.

WNYPC’s disclosures were not complete.  For a time, it showed the PAC to be in the red – a big no-no. Disclosures came in late. Disclosures were inaccurate or misleading, in one instance showing a donation from a different, long-dormant Pigeon-associated PAC, “Democratic Action”.  What was odd about that purported $9,000 donation from Democratic Action was that it did not disclose any outflow of money during the same 2013 cycle, and had most recently showed a fund balance of $2,400 and a concomitant “no activity” report with the Board of Elections.

Dick Dobson embarrassed Bert Dunn on primary night. Dunn decided to waste his money and run on a tailor-made third party line, unsuccessfully. WNYPC abandoned Dobson, however, during the general election. None of Mazurek’s legislative candidates won, so she used Michael Caputo’s PoliticsWNY.com to smear Wynnie Fisher, who had defeated Mazurek’s candidate, Wes Moore.  Apparently, Fisher and her neighbors don’t get along, so a story was planted accusing Fisher of being crazy.

The problem was that the letter was sent to Wes Moore at an address in Lancaster. But Moore’s campaign committee was based in the Nanulas’ offices in Clarence. The Lancaster address was a house on Doris Avenue where Mazurek was living, and which also served as the mailing address for WNYPC. There was, on its face, a smoking gun of coordination. How and why would Wynnie Fisher’s neighbors decide to send a letter to an address for Wes Moore that didn’t exist in nature?

In late September 2013, Tim Hogues and Betty Jean Grant, with an assist from anti-Pigeon transparency advocate Mark Sacha, filed a formal complaint with the New York State Board of Elections, accusing Pigeon, Mazurek, and WNYPC of various illegalities and violations of campaign finance law.

Geoff Kelly reports at the Public that the investigation has wings .

After the County Board of Elections resolved to investigate the complaint, it was turned over to the state BOE, which in turn appears to have turned it over to the Attorney General’s office and State Police. Once an investigation such as this is put into the hands of people outside of Buffalo, you know that the threat of shenanigans is decreased exponentially.

Kelly reports that police interviewed several people at the county legislature. I have confirmed that at least one of the legislative candidates from 2013 was also interviewed.  Subpoenas have been issued and action taken to enforce them. Don’t be surprised if forensic accountants are trying to account for all the money – where it came from, and how it was spent.

Kelly also reports that real estate deals and former Deputy Mayor Steve Casey are under investigation. This likely has something to do with the Seneca Mall project, where Casey is now employed.

For once, at long last, it seems that campaign finance and election laws are being enforced in a serious way. Will there be a prosecution? Time will tell, but something big is going on behind the scenes, and it’s being directed by very serious people from outside the area.

Cuomo: Epic Trolling of Paladino

On Tuesday, Governor Cuomo’s official Facebook page displayed this message:

Governor Andrew Cuomo - Google Chrome 2014-11-26 11.36.45

 

An observant local Twitter user identifies the house on the left as that belonging to Carl Paladino.

Indeed, a check of relevant records, and of Google Maps reveals that the house on the left in this image is the one belonging to Paladino – you can tell by the flags and political signs.

An epic troll by Governor Cuomo of his 2010 rival and consistent critic – using Paladino’s house to raise money for the Food Bank and Meals on Wheels.

slow-clap

 

Slow clap.

Campaign Finance Irregularity Wednesday

Cheers to Steve Pigeon and Kristy Mazurek, who have managed to crowbar their names back into the news. They have either found or manufactured a crisis, accusing Board of Election workers of destroying NYSUT apparatchik Mike Deely’s petitions for county committee.

Is it true? Who knows, but the accusation has been trumpeted, and it’s now Dennis Ward’s and Jeremy Zellner’s problem to unfuck. From Caputo’s PoliticsNY.net

Mike Deely, regional staff director of the New York State United Teachers Union. He’s one of the largest donors to the ECDC over the years and a longtime member of the party’s executive board. Deely recently joined PMB forces, upset with the direction headquarters has taken in the last year.

In the meantime, West Seneca has (naturally) been the epicenter of Pigeon’s and local Conservative Party head Ralph Lorigo.  Steve Casey’s departure from City Hall to become the CEO of the monstrous Scott Congel-led Seneca Mall project underscores the political nature of that project. 

Floridian billionaire Tom Golisano is talking about joining with Congel for the location of the Seneca Mall, near the I-90 and Ridge Road. That land deal has been on simmer since late 2013, at least. 

Pyramid Management Group out of Syracuse have been sniffing around the Seneca Mall since at least last summer.  Look at this August 2013 article from the West Seneca Bee regarding the approval of $50k for town SEQR review of the Seneca Mall site. 

Though not much other detail was offered at Monday night’s Town Board meeting, the board unanimously approved a feasibility study to be performed regarding the proposed development of the former Seneca Mall site at a cost not to exceed $30,000…

…[Town Councilman Eugene P.] Hart said he had just learned of this resolution the day of the vote. Henry said it all came together “pretty quick.” He said the town was required to have the grant application submitted by Aug. 12, hence the need for immediate action.

“It seems very cryptic when you read it,” said Hart. “People will wonder what’s going on.”

[Supervisor Sheila] Meegan said she realized that, but they can’t “spill the beans.”

Hart also told the public that it is the intent of the board to rezone the former Seneca Mall site from industrial to commercial, as per the owner’s request. He said he could not offer much information but did say the proposed development would be a “game-changer” for the town.

Councilman John M. Rusinski said a delicate balance must be struck between the needs of the taxpayers and the needs of the developer. Both he and Hart said the feasibility study is being done in order to protect the interests of the taxpayers.

“Economic development is important to the town,” Rusinski said. “This project is a good thing.”

The Town Board Minutes of October 17, 2013 reflect that Supervisor Meegan made a motion, seconded by Rusinski, to authorize Meegan “to execute an agreement with Camoin Associates to conduct an economic and fiscal analysis for the Seneca Mall site.” 

On the question, Councilman Rusinski stated he agrees with the study but expressed concern about the verbage. He referred to a previously passed resolution which states the dollar amount is not to exceed $30,000, yet an attachment in the agreement shows a fixed fee of $25,000.

Town Engineer Richard Henry responded this was his mistake. The fixed fee language will be removed and the agreement will be amended to read “not to exceed.”
 
Councilman Hart stated he has numerous concerns and commented if this project were to go forward it will be considered huge and impact all of Western New York, yet they do not have a lot of information about the developer. He did not feel they had enough information to go forward at this time and questioned spending $25,000 when there are so many unanswered questions such as infrastructure and sewage.
 
Mr. Henry responded he has spoken with Camoin and they are aware they have to have more information from the developer in order to go forward. Upon approval, Camoin will present the developer with a list of questions. Mr. Henry stated the purpose of the study is to assess the fiscal impacts to get the answers so they can go forward.
 
Councilman Hart suggested the developer provide the town with $25,000 and the town will spend it on their behalf and do the study.
 
Town Attorney Shawn Martin responded the developer should not pay for a study that the town is requesting.
 
Supervisor Meegan stated they will be finding out what the potential is for the town’s investment and whether or not the investment will have a return for taxpayers. She commented that the town has an opportunity to do something and they cannot continue to let the site sit there as it has for so many years. The developer is asking for assistance to pursue a Seneca Place project of 3 million square feet of mixed use buildings, community center, retail, residential, office, hotels, parking, etc. Supervisor Meegan stated this project will not go forward at risk to the Town of West Seneca taxpayers.
 
Councilman Rusinski stated that West Seneca is screaming for economic development and the town has made the mistake of being too idle in the past.  The analysis will provide insight as to whether this type of development has economic potential for West Seneca. He did not feel any board member would put taxpayers at risk.
 
Councilman Hart stated there doesn’t seem to be any involvement by the IDA’s or the development corporation of New York State and he feels there should be more substance with regard to the developer’s marketing and business plan. Councilman Hart questioned how soon information will be provided to the board members and if the recommendations and numbers will be made public at that time.
 
Mr. Henry responded they have a total of 60 days; 30 days to gather the information and another 30 days to compile the information and report back to the town.
 
Mr. Martin stated if the report has an exception with regard to acquiring property or contract negotiations involving costs, information will not be made public.  He will have to see the report before he can make a determination as to whether or not the information provided will be made public at that time.
 
Councilman Hart stated he is ready to discuss the entire project with the public so they are fully aware of what the proposal is. He would like to see the Seneca Mall property developed and is willing to look for his own developer and take the property by eminent domain to acquire a reasonable project.
The motion carried unanimously. Lorigo’s involvement, at minimum, has to do with the fact that his office is located at the Seneca Mall parcel. Why did this come up last summer? Because of what I called the AwfulPAC; the now-defunct “WNY Progressive Caucus” was the Steve Pigeon / Frank Max / Kristy Mazurek effort to disrupt the Democratic Party and defeat certain of its county-level candidates.
 
AwfulPAC benefited from a huge cash injection from nominal Democrat and pro-life-oh-wait-pro-choice Tim Kennedy. But at the time, a singular donation of $25,000 from the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 3 was quite puzzling, and no one reported on it. 
 
 
No one understood why it was made, and it’s glaringly odd because a $25,000 donation would have practically emptied the union’s account. The image above is taken from Mazurek’s AwfulPAC 11-day pre-primary filing. By contrast, this is what the Bricklayer’s union’s disclosure shows on its 11-day pre-primary filing: 
 
 
We’re meant to believe that a union with only $28,000 on hand is emptying its account to fund the AwfulPAC? Indeed, a scan of this union local’s intake and outflow shows modest amounts – a few thousand coming in, a few hundred going out. It reports $5,000 to current Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren in its 11-day pre-General. It gave Sean Ryan $500 bucks. Its July 2013 report shows a little over $1,000 to Tim Kennedy, but at no time did the BAC Local 3 report $25,000 to the “WNY Progressive Caucus”, and such an outflow appears on no disclosure report whatsoever
 
So, what’s going on? 
 
 
 
As Pigeon and Mazurek hyperventilate over allegations of supposed petition-destruction – something that despite years and years of open and obvious, internecine Democratic warfare has never happened before – let’s not let them off the hook for their own, more glaring and apparent sloppy campaign finance irregularities. 
 
New York State Democrats’ inability to get out of their own damn way is neither novel nor unique. Witness the spectacle just this week,  as a liberal gubernatorial challenger, Zephyr Teachout, is holding anti-Cuomo press conferences with right-wing Putin lookalike winner Rob Astorino. Hell no.
 
You want to make a point about the shutting down of the Moreland Commission? Do it. You want to call out the governor with his Republican challenger standing next to you? You just lost me. 
 
Here in Erie County, Nick Langworthy has the easiest  job in the world. He doesn’t need to do a thing when he has an endless parade of job-hungry nominal Democrats around to repeatedly sabotage whatever the county committee tries to do. 

All in the (Howard) Family

Sheriff Tim Howard has hired his wife to be on “Scientific Staff Reserve”. I have feelers out to see what background she has in law enforcement, and whether Howard created the position for her, or if she filled an existing one. 

Via Facebook


Via Facebook

 

County Leg: Making it Rain

The County Legislature bipartisanly took the bold step of literally just wildly throwing money – $5 million of it – at the beleaguered road network. Surely our roads are in need of repair, thanks to a brutal and relentless winter, but is it too much to ask Republican legislators to actually set up a plan, or maybe name some priorities, before they shame everyone to spend money so prospective opponents can’t label them as anti-road? 

Seriously. This kind of spending is typically what Republicans criticize Democrats for.  But it’s ok if it’s roads, because almost all county roads are in the suburban districts. 

We need to review the county road network, which grew without control under the old Board of Supervisors, and determine what roads should be maintained by the regional government, and which should revert to local control. 

Betty Jean Grant: GOP Staffer Had Prohibited Smartphone

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

//www.scribd.com/embeds/222009219/content?start_page=1&view_mode=scroll&show_recommendations=true

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

//www.scribd.com/embeds/222009637/content?start_page=1&view_mode=scroll&show_recommendations=true

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.

 

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