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When it comes to Erie County operations, the Board of Elections has the best of both worlds.

The two men who run the board -- one Republican and one Democrat -- are paid as elected officials and get county cars they can use around the clock. They also get yearly pay raises -- a certainty reserved in county government only for department heads and other county workers.

Among elected officials, only the county executive and district attorney are paid more.

Acting like elected officials, the elections commissioners say they don't have to keep track of the hours they work, although the county comptroller did an audit last year and said they do.

The Board of Elections is different in another way: its 82 positions are pure patronage, exempt from civil service rules. Half are parceled out by the Republicans, half by the Democrats. County taxpayers pay workers to keep the county's elections machinery in operation.

Now some people are taking a closer look at the operations after Robert Freed, a Republican worker, told the district attorney he was hired as a clerk but got paid to be a personal gofer for GOP officials.

How Freed and other board workers spend their workdays soon will be the subject of an inquiry by Comptroller Alfreda W. Slominski.

Other areas where Mrs. Slominski and perhaps the County Legislature may look include:

Salary: Elections commissioners are paid more than most of Erie County's elected officials but are treated as department heads for scheduled salary raises. By contrast, the salaries of elected officials have been frozen since 1986.

Republican Elections Commissioner Philip D. Smolinski and his Democratic counterpart Edward J. Mahoney this year will earn $62,589, a higher salary than the $52,977 set for Mrs. Slominski, Sheriff Thomas Higgins and Clerk David Swarts. Of the elected officials, only County Executive Gorski and District Attorney Kevin Dillon earn more than the elections commissioners. Gorski earns $69,815 and Dillon $95,000.

Cars: Gorski will soon get a new policy on who in county government should be issued a county car and permissible uses of the vehicles.

County Attorney Patrick H. NeMoyer said the policy, which contains fines for abuse of the privilege, has been under review for a while. Among Freed's charges was that he used a county car issued to Smolinski to do personal tasks for Smolinski and GOP officials.

Mrs. Slominski, who does not use a county car, said the commissioners don't need county cars. When they need to travel for the county they can use a pool car or use their own cars and be reimbursed, she said.

Accountability: Mrs. Slominski insists election commissioners should sign time sheets and accrue their vacation and sick time. The commissioners disagree. Central to the dispute is whether the elec tions commissioners are elected officials.

NeMoyer said they are not elected officials but are equal to other department heads who must log their work time. The commissioners say state elections law defines them as elected officials who receive an annual salary regardless of the time they put in.

The dispute peaked last year when a comptroller audit criticized the commissioners for failing to keep work records. Hence, they do not accrue vacation time, sick or personal leave time.

"The time has come for us to ask the County Legislature to clarify the matter," said NeMoyer.

Under state law, the commissioners are appointed by the County Legislature on the recommendation of each party's county committee. In other counties, the term is two years. In Erie County, the Legislature approved a four-year term. Each commissioner appoints 41 board workers, making the board of elections the only operation in county government where all the jobs are patronage and no civil service tests are required for workers to be hired.

Smolinski could not be reached for comment.

"All the committeemen vote for me and they are elected by the people," said Mahoney, Democratic commissioner since 1969. Mahoney said he'll follow state law, and the last word from a state attorney was that the commissioners are paid an annual salary that "is not based on hours worked."

"I'll always go by the state opinion until we get overruled," Mahoney said. "I have no problem either way."

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