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.

Szalkowski Drops Out, Mychajliw Pitches Fit

Erie County Comptroller candidate Lynn Szalkowski dropped out yesterday, the day petitions were due. Her name appeared on Democratic nominating petitions that have been circulated throughout Erie County for the past several weeks because she was the candidate whom the party had recruited to run. As it turns out, she had second thoughts and effectively dropped out of the race weeks ago. That posed a problem for the party, because the only way to keep the ballot line alive for November would be to keep circulating her petitions and then let a committee replace her when she formally drops out. That’s what’s about to happen in the next week or so.

Just about every news story everywhere has made the point that Ms. Szalkowski has suffered some personal tragedies in recent weeks, and that she may also have some sort of personal health issue. While her Facebook page shows her doing fun things with friends and her kids, that doesn’t necessarily mean she isn’t also tackling some sort of health problem. People live with chronic pain and disease all the time yet are still able to go out and maintain some semblance of a normal life – it doesn’t mean they also have the energy or will to go out and attend every chicken BBQ and every fundraiser and every debate as part of a grueling, months-long campaign for a countywide office.

So, when she dropped out yesterday, her putative opponent, incumbent Stefan Mychajliw, took to Facebook to comment on the situation. Before becoming Comptroller, Mychajliw was the owner of a public relations firm. As a public relations professional, I would likely counsel a candidate to take the high road, and leave the backhanded smacks and insults for surrogates.

In other words, Mychajliw’s Facebook post or whatever other public statement he made should have read something like this:

I am disappointed to learn that Ms. Szalkowski has decided not to accept her party’s nomination to run for Erie County Comptroller on the Democratic line. I am proud of my accomplishments over the last several months, and looked forward to a lively campaign on the issues. I wish Ms. Szalkowski and her family well, and look forward to running a positive campaign against whomever the Democrats select as their candidate.

Because, honestly, Mychajliw shouldn’t necessarily care who runs against him, or what the internal Democratic party machinations and intrigue might be. He is running to win in November, and he’ll take all comers, right?

Well, instead of some sort of gracious send-off, Mychajliw inexplicably spat this venom at the Democratic committee:

I don’t quite understand why this makes Mr. Mychajliw so upset, and why he didn’t so much as wish Ms. Szalkowski well, whatever his feelings are about the legal process that results from a candidate dropping out of a race. The party committee recruited Szalkowski, and it will now have to recruit someone else. It’s really six of one, half-dozen of the other, and Mychajliw’s Facebook excreta seems utterly classless to me.

Maybe Mychajliw’s office could trick a custodian into letting them into the locked basement room in the Rath Building where the Democrats keep all the Comptroller candidates.

Best and Brightest

Why so quiet?

That was fast. 

Just about a week ago, Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw hired a person named Jeff Bochiechio to be his new chief-of-staff. Mychajliw had famously pledged to hire only the “best and brightest” and specifically campaigned on a pledge to not just end, but root out, the “friends and family plan” of county hiring commonly referred to as patronage. 

Jeff Bochiechio may have been the best and brightest person to apply or submit a resume for the position of chief of staff – I don’t know. Frankly, I don’t think that it’s a bad thing for an elected official to surround himself with close friends and associates in some positions, because these are the people you know and trust to do a good job for you. Patronage isn’t always horrible. But compare: 

 So, Mr. Mychajliw has held himself to a higher standard, given his campaign pledges about eliminating patronage completely, which is why his former WGRZ colleagues so sharply questioned him on January 10th about this Bochiechio hire

According to Bochiechio’s resume and LinkedIn page, he began his career working for former Republican congressman Tom Reynolds, he was former County Executive Chris Collins chief fundraiser for three years, he says he ran Jane Corwin’s 2008 campaign for state assembly, and had a patronage position in Buffalo with Republicans in the state senate.

In defending his hiring of Boccheicio, Mychajliw points to the fact he’s a lawyer.

Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw: “My predecessors have hired a public relations person for that position of chief of staff where I have hired a public sector attorney with municipal experience and extensive experience e and state and local finance law and tax law and IDA law.” 

Scott Brown: “You say extensive experience, he worked for less than a year at a local law firm, he’s fresh out of law school where is his extensive experience?” 

Stefan Mychajliw: “In the same respect that Mark Poloncarz was a private sector attorney and served in the office of Erie County comptroller.”

Heh. Nice one, right? Except Mark Poloncarz was sworn in as a lawyer in 1998, and became Comptroller in 2006. That’s 8 years’ worth of experience doing corporate finance law at a big downtown firm; the comptroller should know that 8 is more than 1. Also – public sector attorney? Bochiechio’s LinkedIn page reveals only a brief stint with a private downtown firm. There is no evidence whatsoever of him having been a “public sector attorney”. 

But perhaps Bochiechio had special qualifications? For instance, he was a full-time law student at UB between 2008 – 2011, yet served as the New York State Senate’s “WNY Regional Director – Majority Operations” during his third year of law school.  According to SeeThroughNY, Bochiechio “earned” $49,154 in 2010, and a further $34,112 in 2011. That’s over $83,000 in taxpayer money for what is – if you’re also simultaneously attending law school – essentially a no-show job. 

Today, Bochiechio resigned abruptly as Channel 4 reported that he had pled guilty to DWI in Machias. He was arrested in October for blowing a .13 BAL – almost twice the legal limit. It’s unlikely that he’ll serve time in jail, but he will likely pay a fine, be on some sort of probation, have his license revoked for 6 months, and be required to have an ignition interlock device installed in his car. What kind of vetting took place to hire this young kid, about whom no one would be paying any attention if he was just working in the private sector? 

Scott Brown: “Most of his (Bochiechio’s) background in politics is as a fundraiser, will you used him to raise money for your campaign?” 

Stefan Mychajliw: “Certainly an option, I want to hired the best and brightest for this office and I also want to make sure that I have the best and brightest and most competent people when it comes to running for re-election this year.” 

Bochiechio’s position has a starting salary of $62,000 a year. 

This guy was hired because he’s got political experience running campaigns for Republicans, and because he’s well-connected. There’s nothing ostensibly wrong with that – indeed, it’d have been a smart hire, if he didn’t have the DWI. But when you make a big deal about rooting out patronage, you’re going to come under especial scrutiny about hiring friends, family, and the well-connected. This wasn’t just a hire violative of Mychajliw’s campaign pledge – it was poorly vetted, even for a patronage hack. 

Pigeon Promotes Pizazz, Prejudice

I wrote this linked-to post during Wednesday and Thursday, with the intention of posting it first thing Monday morning. When I learned that the Buffalo News’ political columnist Bob McCarthy would be covering similar points, I accelerated publishing my own thoughts to Friday so they wouldn’t be seen as reactive. I’ll be bumping it to the top on Monday morning anyway, but this morning we have McCarthy’s transcription services to fisk. (Fisk definition).  

President Obama took Erie County in a landslide Election Day, but you might not have recognized that victory by some of the long faces at Democratic Party headquarters in Ellicott Square Tuesday might.

That’s because Erie County Democrats suffered through a dismal Election Night, losing three major offices.

On the flip side, the frowns and disappointment at Mitt Romney’s Boston headquarters never made their way to Buffalo. In fact, the local GOP appeared downright giddy after picking off a congressional seat and county comptroller’s office, while staving off an attempt to dethrone State Sen. Mark J. Grisanti.

Their successes gave a sense of accomplishment to local GOP leaders in a county where registered Democrats significantly outnumber Republicans and Obama garnered 220,506 votes to Romney’s 160,337.

“We went with our traditional recipe of having great candidates, the right message, and the revenues to get out that message,” said Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy. “The taxpayers are buying what we are selling because our issues are right.”

I don’t know if I’d go as far as that. I don’t know what Mr. Mychajliw’s “issues” are, nor am I too familiar with what Mr. Grisanti’s “issues” are. A big issue, for instance, is hydrofracking. Mr. Grisanti has been silent or indecisive on that. UB 2020 didn’t pass – SUNY 2020 did.  Under UB 2020, UB would have $4 billion to play with to transform itself from a socialistically redistributive public university into a quasi-private business incubator. Under SUNY 2020, all SUNY schools need to compete for a $35 million pot for capital improvements, administered by the Empire State Development Corporation. Mr. Collins’ issues? Obamapelosi and a promise to do whatever Speaker Boehner tells him to do. 

But it’s a far different story this post-election weekend for Democrats, and the bickering that marks the local party leadership has been revived.

Yes, it has. I addressed it here in a plea for everyone to act like grownups and re-assess how the Erie County Democratic Committee conducts itself. Whose opinions, pray, does Mr. McCarthy transcribe? 

“The Democrats ought to take a close look at what happened,” said former Erie County Democratic Chairman G. Steven Pigeon. “We should have had three wins, and we had three losses.”

Specifically, he blamed former county chairman Leonard R. Lenihan and the new chairman Jeremy J. Zellner.

“They put in a lackey who got [Lenihan’s] coffee,” Pigeon said of Zellner. “You can’t unify the party as long as Len Jr. is in the chairman’s seat.

“It’s a joke,” he added. “To have this little, junior, mid-level staffer as chairman of Erie County is an embarrassment. Zellner ought to step down.”

It’s funny, at first. It’s funny at first to read the petulant venom from a loser calling someone else a loser. It’s funny to see someone who hasn’t played a constructive role in WNY Democratic politics in forever lecture Len Lenihan and Jeremy Zellner. When you demand that someone resign a post that they just won in an election because you hate them, you display a remarkably childish arrogance underscored by the fact that none of Pigeon‘s own picks won anything this round. 

I know a lot of people don’t like Zellner any more than they liked Lenihan, but to insult him as having been Lenihan’s coffee boy is so ignorant and blind. First of all, even if Zellner had done nothing more in the last decade than get Lenihan’s coffee, that task would have been infinitely more productive for Erie County Democrats than what Pigeon‘s been doing during that same period of time. After all, being a coffee boy doesn’t actively do harm to Democratic candidacies. But, of course, Zellner was the executive director, not the coffee boy. That might be how Pigeon treated his ED when he was chairman, but Zellner was quite active in every Democratic race – won or lost – for a decade. 

Party unity? You can’t unify the party where “unity” is defined by at least one faction as being “taking control” and “getting everything I want.” But more on the whole notion of party unity below. 

Zellner laughed heartily at Pigeon’s suggestion about stepping aside before addressing the criticism.

He said he inherited a treasury with just $700 but got to work raising money and spending it on the local candidates.

“I’ve raised $200,000 and spent at least half of that on the election,” Zellner said. “I won’t be criticized by people from the past who are irrelevant anyway.”

Pigeon’s criticism against party leaders centered on fielding poor candidates and failing to do enough for Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul, who barely lost the 27th Congressional District to Republican Chris Collins.

Pigeon may have been most frustrated with the State Senate race.

He was instrumental in recruiting former County Legislature Chairman Charles M. Swanick to run in the Democratic primary for State Senate and also securing Conservative Party backing for him in the general election. But Swanick lost the primary to Michael L. Amodeo, who had the backing of the local party leaders, and then Grisanti won easily Tuesday.

In addition to blaming Lenihan and Zellner, Pigeon also took aim at County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz and Elections Commissioner Dennis E. Ward.

A strong Democratic enrollment advantage should have been enough to defeat Grisanti, Pigeon said.

Pigeon remains incensed over the party’s rejection of the Swanick candidacy, maintaining that if Lenihan and Poloncarz had agreed, a united Democratic front backed by Albany could have knocked off Grisanti.

“We would have had the Democratic, Conservative and Working Families lines, and instead Poloncarz gets Amodeo the [Democratic] line,” Pigeon said. “He searched high and low for another candidate because he perceived that Swanick would be close to me.”

Amodeo was a weak candidate who had previously lost an Assembly primary, Pigeon said, while Swanick was a moderate Democrat from the suburbs with a long history of success. 

And he blamed Poloncarz for insisting David J. Shenk be the comptroller candidate, when he felt others would have proven stronger candidates.

Swanick is a conservative Democrat-in-enrollment-only (is he, even?) whose entire candidacy was predicated on an anti-same-sex-marriage position he sold to Ralph Lorigo and the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). Lorigo was eager to punish incumbent Republican Mark Grisanti, who Lorigo believed had deceived him with respect to allowing gay couples to marry. Practically all of Swanick’s funding came from NOM or from “loans” that this retired railroad engineer is supposed to have made to his own campaign in the amount of $35,000. Did Democrats flock to his candidacy during the primary? Nope. Despite Al Coppola’s perennial presence on the primary ballot to siphon off Italian votes from Amodeo, Swanick only managed 26% of the vote (Al Coppola actually outperformed Swanick in the City of Buffalo).  That number is the homophobe dead-ender vote. Swanick had no business running as a Democrat in a race, regardless of who’s behind you or who has endorsed you. 

Democrats in Erie County shouldn’t sell out their principles to Ralph Lorigo just to get a “W”. 

But being conclusively rejected by Democrats wasn’t enough. Swanick – whose record of failure in the County legislature remains relatively fresh in people’s minds – stayed in the race and fared poorly (12%) in the general election, too. 

What’s Pigeon’s track record? Consider, when Byron Brown fired Pigeon in 2004 in advance of his run for Mayor, he said of Pigeon

“Unfortunately, he has been unable to move beyond his attitudes toward those whom he believes have wronged him politically in the past…It was painfully obvious he just wasn’t a positive influence on my staff.”

Nor was he a positive influence as Democratic county chairman. His profligate spending drove the party into debt, and his heavy hand fomented internecine wars that made politics rather than policy the focus of local government for most of his tenure. That’s why Brown had to separate himself from Pigeon if he wanted to become mayor; major funders around here made it clear that Brown was welcome to the second floor of City Hall but Pigeon was not.

Now? That same Steve Pigeon whines that the Erie County Democratic Committee refused to back a candidate who ran on a homophobe platform and couldn’t secure more than 20% of the vote from anyone, anywhere. Chuck Swanick was the last great hope to defeat Mark Grisanti, who had enough money to spend $20,000 per day in the campaigns waning days and had broad bipartisan support based on equality and inclusion? Everyone, everywhere rejected Chuck Swanick, and Pigeon is having a tantrum because he didn’t get a chance to be more widely rejected? That’s astonishing. 

As for McCarthy, it’s irresponsible for him to transcribe these sneering accusations without challenge in his “opinion column”. 

Instead, Republican Stefan Mychajliw snared the post – considered a major coup in a Democratic county with strong turnout in a presidential year.

“He puts in a guy who is not prepared, has no resume or base, and with no pizazz as a candidate,” Pigeon said. “In a presidential year, we lose a countywide race because of the pettiness of Poloncarz, Lenihan and Ward.”

“This shows you Poloncarz’s leadership of the Democratic Party is abysmal,” Pigeon said.

Consider that for a moment. 

Poloncarz is the County Executive. Shenk was running for County Comptroller. The County Comptroller is supposed to be independent from the County Executive. If he isn’t, the post is meaningless and could lead to bad government.

Just ask Nancy Naples and Joel Giambra. 

If Poloncarz had become involved in the Comptroller race, a tremendous volume of feces would have sprayed all over him and Shenk, from having hit the fan. 

And whom would Pigeon have put in place as Comptroller? George Hasiotis, he who proposes now a $1.5 billion Dubai-like waterfront stadium for a failing team in a shrinking city? We’re entertaining a tantrum because Erie County voters lost out on Hasiotis’ “pizazz”? 

Hey, Bob, let’s ask the worst political person imaginable and a breakfast-hosting fusion pimp what he thinks!

Erie County Conservative Chairman Ralph C. Lorigo contended a united front behind Swanick would have worked.

“One candidate would have been extremely viable and probably be successful,” he said.

Translation: I backed this homophobe because he was as opposed to queer marriage as I was, and you Democrats screwed it up by nominating some queer-lover. 

“Looking back a year ago, there were stories about the death of the Republican Party in Erie County,” Poloncarz said. “It’s fair to say the people spoke on Tuesday, and you have to respect that.”

Meanwhile, Langworthy and his GOP are experiencing none of the flak aimed at Democratic leaders. The Grisanti and Mychajliw victories rank as especially significant because they occurred in a presidential year with high Democratic turnout, he said.

I think Democrats locally have a lot of soul-searching to do. I’ve laid it out here. But I think part of it is to ignore the sour grapes from a set of tainted, malignant has-beens who promote prejudiced, failed, or “pizazz”-free candidacies. 

Being a Democrat means more than just winning elections. It also means standing on principle. Sometimes we win, sometimes we won’t; but winning while selling out critical parts of our fundamental party coalition isn’t really “winning.” Winning an election by selling out our principles isn’t winning. We may not have defeated Mark Grisanti, but we didn’t whore ourselves out, either. We may not have defeated Stefan Mychajliw, but it speaks to an undesirable job with an exceedingly shallow bench, and it underscores that selling out our principles for political expediency results in cynicism and people deciding not be active in the party. 

When that happens, all you’ll have left is a bunch of transactional hacks looking for jobs

Quick Take

Quick take because President Obama didn’t start giving his acceptance speech until almost 2am. If you see me today, steer clear. I’m tired and filled with mixed emotion. 

POTUS: Barack Obama won re-election rather handily, and a great deal of people – mostly made up the disingenuous and the dumb – owe Nate Silver from 538 a massive apology for doubting his predictive models and for complaining about “skewed” polls. Silver was right on the money, and people like the always-wrong Dick Morris, and a whole set of mostly Republican “pundits” were beyond wrong. Science and math win over “gut” and “feelings”. Maybe it has to do with boomer conservatives all being former hippies. You know, “me, myself, and I”. I’ll write more about this later, but a win is a win, and watching Fox News during part of last night, I found the most amazing Vaudeville show ever produced

NY-27: This is devastating. Make no mistake, the electorate of the 27th Congressional District has left me – themselves – effectively without Congressional representation. For all intents and purposes, I’m an inadvertent, unvoluntary liberal tea partier.  Only for real. Late last night, Kathy Hochul, who has served in Congress with excellence and bipartisanship sent this: 

“Early this morning I called Chris Collins and congratulated him on being elected to Congress.  I encouraged him to work across the aisle and offered to assist him in any way I can.  I also volunteered to help him make a smooth transition in January to ensure our constituents are well served.  Congress can do better, and the people of this country deserve better than what Washington has given them.”

Collins is all over the air saying Hochul lost because of her Buffalo China ads. I’ll agree that they went too hard on that tack, and didn’t push the real issue – that she’s bipartisan and he’s completely partisan. Mr. Obamapelosi has no business claiming not to have been more negative than Hochul in the race. Thank God Obama won, otherwise you’d see the rapid dismantling of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and a whole variety of so-called “entitlements” that you depend on and pay for

Comptroller: Voters chose name recognition over qualifications, such as they were. No surprise there. Now what, Stefan? 

Other than that – marriage equality won referenda in Maine and Maryland – a first. Horrible red-baiting Congressman Allen West is gone. Michele Bachmann almost lost. Elizabeth Warren defeated Scott Brown in Massachusetts; democrats took back “Teddy Kennedy’s seat”. 

A mixed night, but a relief that we will continue to move forward with President Obama. Hopefully Washington will start to get things done, now that the Republican’s chief policy aim of preventing Obama’s re-election is extinguished, they can get back to governing

 

 

Mychajliw vs. Shenk for Chief Budget Nerd

The race for Erie County Comptroller is something we all know about, but understand little. Including one of the candidates for the office.

The Comptroller is our chief budgetary nerd. He keeps an eye on where the money’s coming from, how much there is, and where it’s going. He makes sure that the money is being spent the way it’s supposed to be spent, and he conducts audits from time to time to examine just that. Because budgets are prospective, it’s important to know throughout the year how we’re doing with its predictions, and in the end, how we did – did we overspend? Is there a surplus? Did we hit it just right? So many variables can skew the numbers in a given year. 

It’s not an inherently political position, although it’s an elected one. The comptroller should be independent of the legislature and the County Executive. The comptroller should conduct monitoring, auditing, and borrowing without regard to the political expediency of any of it, and instead act in what he believes is the best fiscal interests of county taxpayers. He should be a watchdog, and not anyone’s lapdog. 

That’s why Mark Poloncarz and Chris Collins didn’t get along; Collins was not used to, and didn’t like, having his decisions subject to careful review and monitoring, so he clashed with the Comptroller’s office almost constantly. 

Now, we have David Shenk, the interim Comptroller appointed to complete Poloncarz’s second term running against former journalist and current public relations specialist Stefan Mychajliw. Mychajliw, you’ll recall, was Collins’ campaign spokesman in 2011. 

Mychajliw is running on his youthful vigor, his easy way of connecting with voters, his pledge to be independent, his immigrant bona fides, his personal thriftiness, and his experience as a Channel 2 “redcoat” TV journalist, who asks “tough questions” of politicians. Shenk is running on his record as Boston Town Clerk and having had his mettle tested in the military. It’s been a relatively quiet campaign until this week. 

First, Mychajliw ran an ad pledging that the first “audit” he would conduct would look into the “friends and family” hiring practices in county government. That’s fantastic, but completely outside of the job description of a Comptroller. Hiring “friends and family” through patronage or nepotism may be something we don’t like because it is, or seems, unfair, but it doesn’t affect county finances unless you’re creating a new job for the person. Presumably, the underlying position and its related costs would already be accounted-for in the budget, and the decision on hiring is not reviewable or subject somehow to audit. 

Auditing is about money – not politics. 

Pledging to audit hiring practices is silly, but how exactly will he have the power to “end it”? He doesn’t have legislative powers, or even executive power with respect to changing that. And if a “friend” or “family” is qualified for the job, what objective harm is being done to the county coffers? 

This is WBEN / Red Coat stuff. That’s why Shenk replies with this: 

But more importantly – what qualifications does Mychajliw have to be Comptroller? Remember how Poloncarz’s detractors said he was unqualified because he didn’t have a CPA? Well, he didn’t, but his staff did, and Poloncarz has a JD and had extensive experience in corporate finance law. Mychajliw, on the other hand, has no such experience, no such advanced degree, no qualifications whatsoever to be chief budget nerd of Erie County. His LinkedIn page reveals undergraduate degrees in political science and broadcast journalism. That’s it.  Shenk has an undergraduate degree in management, and has been Boston Town Clerk and tax collector for 20 years

But when you examine the two candidates, who has an understanding of what’s going on? Here’s a telling exchange from a recent debate between Mychajliw and Shenk:

Not an exciting race by any measure, but it seems as if one candidate – Shenk – has a better grasp of not only the facts, but the terminology.