Betty Jean Grant elected Erie County Legislative Chair

The Erie County Legislature has unanimously elected Betty Jean by as Chairwoman of that body. Tim Hogues made the nomination, with seconds coming from Loughran, Mazur, and Marinelli. Republican legislator Kevin Hardwick also spoke warmly about Grant, jokingly concluding that he reserved the right to retract his remarks “the first time [she] crosses [him]”.

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Poloncarz Takes Office

Poloncarz Thanks SupportersOver the weekend, we inaugurated a new County Executive, Mark Poloncarz. After four years of being told that government needed to be run like a business, Poloncarz reminded us of government’s true reason for being.

A government isn’t a business, and shouldn’t be run like one. It exists to serve its constituents; its people. It exists exactly to provide services that the private sector cannot – or will not – provide to meet the needs of its people. It exists not to serve a small elite, but those with the least influence.

It represents a complete redirection of what the purpose of government is, and whom it serves. To that end, the first five executive orders Poloncarz signed are:

Executive Order #001—Procurement of Legal Services to Support Buffalo Bills Lease Negotiations:

This order requires the Erie County Attorney to immediate commence a process to procure the services of special counsel to support the upcoming lease negotiations with the Buffalo Bills through the issuance of a Request for Proposals from qualified law firms.

Executive Order #002—Medicaid Fraud and Abuse Task Force:

This order requires the Commissioner of the Department of Social Services, in conjunction with the County Attorney’s Office and the Erie County Comptroller’s Office, to recommend the methods and procedures to create a Medicaid Anti-Fraud Task Force.

As Comptroller, Poloncarz issued a review (6/17/2009) examining Erie County’s anti-fraud initiatives and expressing concern over the County’s lack of progress in recovering funds from providers engaging in fraud.

Executive Order #003—Time and Attendance Monitoring – Use of Swipe Cards:

This order requires every employee of Erie County, including the Deputy County Executive, commissioners, deputy commissioners and other exempt employees to abide by Erie County’s electronic time keeping “swipe card” system policy as stated in the Erie County Personnel Policies and Procedures Manual.

As Comptroller, Poloncarz issued two separate reviews (7/15/2009 and 8/11/2011) of the swipe card system, which noted that prior administrations had exempted commissioners, deputy commissioners and senior staff from adhering to the policy.

Executive Order #004—Equal Employment Opportunity Program Review and Update:

This order requires the Director of the Erie County Equal Employment Opportunity Office to review and update the Erie County Affirmative Action Manual to bring it into compliance with current law and practices. This manual has not been updated since 1981.

Executive Order #005—Review of Use of Outside Counsel by the Erie County Attorney:

This order requires the Erie County Attorney to conduct a study and submit a report on the use of retained counsel by Erie County.

Poloncarz Inaugural Speechhttp://www.scribd.com/embeds/77112929/content?start_page=1&view_mode=list&access_key=key-2i78mdgjia98tt9s4975//

Do You Need Downtown?

As we round out 2011, I would usually post a retrospective of the year’s posts here, but most of my 2011 archives are no longer online. So, instead, I’ll leave you with this thought-provoking post from Rochester journalist Rachel Barnhart.

In it, Barnhart recounts a discussion she had with a friend about Rochester’s urban core and its suburbs. He argued that suburbanites simply have no need for the city proper anymore, as any and all of their daily needs can easily and conveniently be met closer to home. To them, whether the city sinks or swims is irrelevant, and they believe that the suburbs have developed a way of living that is immune to the city’s successes and failures. From Barnhart’s piece, her friend argued,

The suburbs are so great we don’t need to leave. We have everything, they’re the best suburbs in the country.

If you’re my dad, he has no reason to leave Webster. He has fine dining, shopping and Wegmans. You think people are always denigrating the city, but our suburbs are second to none.

You think life would stop in Brighton and Pittsford if downtown died? The city is not the hub for those people. I’m one of them.

I’m not smart enough to have a prescription to fix downtown. It’s sad and it’s a shame, but (the death of downtown) wouldn’t have the impact you think.

We need to focus on the entire area. We have great suburbs and crime is going down. You think I’m so anti-city and I’m not. I just don’t think downtown and the city are as important.

It’s a topic that comes up quite often in Buffalo. When I first started paying attention to local politics, the city was in rough shape and the county was doing great, flush with tobacco settlement money. Before the red/green budget, suburbanites would gleefully announce to, e.g., Sandy Beach that the county should just take over the city. Within a matter of days, the assumptions underlying that position changed 180 degrees. 

I’m a big believer in the notion that the suburbs and the city sink or swim together. Like Toronto, Erie County should have a metropolitan government that fairly represents all the people. We should have a unified school district that strives for excellence, and discourages complacency and failure. The 50s way of governing needs to be replaced with something more effective, and more reflective of current realities.  We need to consolidate our business development, planning/land use, maintenance, and purchasing functions. We need to make it easier for businesses to navigate a much reduced, rationally laid out set of bureaucratic regulations. Nostalgia shouldn’t be our biggest industry – we need to better support and encourage today’s innovators and tomorrow’s moguls.

But turning specifically to the topic in Barnhart’s piece about the declining need for a downtown, there are loads of people throughout WNY who have no use for the city proper unless they have court, Sabres tickets, or the theater. All other services are not only available, but more convenient, closer to home; home predominately being some suburb.

Crowdsourcing

The national trend of hip young people moving into downtowns has touched Buffalo only tangentially; most newer housing is comprised of rentals, which have a  built-in transience. Condos in the downtown core are almost exclusively high-end, going for more than 300k.

I think downtown Buffalo has a lot of problems that are largely self-inflicted through poor planning, little foresight, and weak zoning. A land value tax would go a long way towards rendering land speculation of vacant lots less economically viable, and perhaps grow downtown again. When I visit Rochester, it seems to me as if its downtown is more robust and better maintained than Buffalo’s. But that could be a grass-is-greener thing.

In order to render old, decaying downtowns vital and vibrant again, people need an incentive to go there. I’m an advocate for a sales-tax-free zone for Buffalo’s downtown core. By giving people $.0875 cents off every dollar they spend, you could easily, quickly, and organically spur interest in downtown retail and revitalize an area that people have no reason to visit. With the pending development of Buffalo’s Canal Side (waterfront project through the ESD), this sales-tax-free zone becomes even more acute of an issue. We’re spending millions to create a tourist/shopping/cultural destination, we should ensure that it’s used and that it helps revitalize its surroundings.

It’s not the weather. It’s not the 190 or the Scajaquada or the 33. It’s not the Skyway. These things are not keeping Buffalo’s downtown lame. Through a sales-tax-free downtown, people from throughout the region, and from Canada, will have a huge incentive to demand goods and services within that zone, and private enterprise will swoop in to supply it.

I think we do need downtown, but more importantly, downtown needs us. It needs feet on the ground, and it needs cash in wallets, ready to be spent on something.  We have a real chicken-and-egg scenario here – retailers won’t come downtown because there isn’t any retail downtown. And let’s face it, when we think about a downtown – if you look at the old pictures of Main Street in the 50s, or better still, 100 years ago, it was a teeming mess of people, shops, eateries, offices; things to do, people to see.

It could be that again, given the right environment. It just needs a few nudges in the right direction.

Happy New Year.

Poloncarz Hires Whyte, Siragusa, Neaverth, Keating, Burstein

Until now, the only hire of which we were aware was Richard Tobe as Deputy County Executive. Today, the Poloncarz transition team announced a second batch of hires:

·         Gale R. Burstein, MD, MPH, FAAP, FSAHM, Commissioner of Health

·         Robert W. Keating, Director of Budget and Management

·         Daniel Neaverth Jr., Commissioner of Emergency Services

·         Michael A. Siragusa, JD, County Attorney

·         Maria R. Whyte, Commissioner of Environment and Planning

From the press release, after the jump. Read more

Deep Interim Thought

Why don’t any qualified people want the job of interim Erie County Comptroller? Is it the pay, the politics, or something altogether different? This isn’t the kind of job where you just insert some ex-politician or hack as a patronage “thank you”; it requires a genuine and deep understanding of government finance.

Suffice it to say that none of the names you may have been hearing are going anywhere near that job.


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Need a Job? Erie County is Hiring

Obviously, this is from a press release. First house-cleaning in many years, what with the first incoming Democratic County Executive since 1988.

POLONCARZ TEAM ANNOUNCES IT IS ACCEPTING RESUMES FOR POSITIONS

County Executive-elect Poloncarz Encourages Those Interested in Serving Erie County in his Administration to Submit Resumes Online

ERIE COUNTY, NY—Today, Erie County Executive-elect Mark C. Poloncarz announced the launch of his transition team’s new website at http://www2.erie.gov/transition.   At the website, Erie County residents can find the latest news from the Poloncarz Transition Team, as well as the list of available positions and how people can submit an application for a position.

Over the next month, the transition team will look to fill approximately 70 positions within the incoming Poloncarz administration ranging from department heads to other policymaking, administrative and managerial confidential staff positions. The transition team strongly encourages anyone interested in serving Erie County to submit an application electronically. The transition team’s executive committee, chaired by businessman Michael Joseph will review cover letters and resumes and make recommendations to the County Executive-elect.  A list of the available positions, job specifications and qualifications and the process for applying for a position in the administration can be found at http://www2.erie.gov/transition/index.php?q=applying-job.

Poloncarz stated, “I will rely on the expertise and unique viewpoints that each of my transition team members bring to the table to help me recruit an administration representative of all of Erie County.  I encourage anyone who is interested in serving our community as part of my new administration to visit the transition website and submit their resume as soon as possible.”

Transition Chairman Michael Joseph added, “The executive committee strongly encourages Erie County residents to go to the transition website, review the available positions and their qualifications and to apply online. We are accepting applications and seeking highly qualified and diverse candidates to serve County Executive-elect Poloncarz in his administration.”

 

UnInformed Attacks: Engage

Check out the comments to this Buffalo News article regarding changes that County Executive-elect Poloncarz would like to make to Collins’ 2012 county budget. It involves re-shuffling existing money to fund what Poloncarz considers to be his priorities, as opposed to Collins’. The uninformed are already accusing him of increasing taxes and spending, when neither is actually occurring.

Such is the state of information in western New York.

In a post on Facebook, Poloncarz wrote,

Although this is Mr. Collins’ budget and both he and the Legislature have final say on what is passed, I hope to have some if not all of these priorities included. Considering the Comptroller’s Office has already identified approximately $5 million in overbudgeting, I believe the roughly $2 million in restorations I suggested are modest. This is in no way additional spending, simply part of my promise to spend what we have more wisely and on the things residents/taxpayers need, want and deserve from County government.

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