Erie County's control board, mired in internal disarray, meets Thursday in what could be Chairman Edward V. Regan's last session.
Regan, according to sources in Albany, has indicated he will soon resign. It was his decision, though some board members are so upset about its ongoing ineffectiveness that Gov. George E. Pataki's aides have inquired about the turmoil.
Reached at his office in New York City late Friday, Regan refused to state his intentions -- nor contradict reports he would resign -- before the session at 2 p.m. Thursday in the Buffalo Convention Center. "There's a time and a place for everything," he said.
A former state comptroller, college president and Erie County executive, Regan was Pataki's choice to lead the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority as it formed last summer. Regan's term runs to 2011, but some members say an entirely new tone must be set if in the next week he changes course and opts to remain.
"I am not on there for the exercise. I am on there to get something done. And I don't think we are going to, given our current direction," said the newest member, Kenneth Kruly, a former county budget director appointed in December to fill a vacancy. "We are just hardly treading water at the moment."
So far, the seven state appointees lack legal justification to abandon their "advisory" status and become a hard control board that can rein in spending and force the hands of elected leaders, as Buffalo's control board can.
But even as a so-called soft board, the panel has done little this year to press key officials on their four-year financial plan or to quiz the department heads who must save millions of dollars if the government is to balance future budgets without new tax increases.
Indeed, Kruly said some of the meetings under Regan's leadership have offered only "a show-and-tell, happy-talk program rather than some specific things to look at." Member Sheila K. Kee has frequently said the panel is not acting like the model it must be for a county government trying to recover from past mistakes.
The board has not discussed the county's settlement with the Erie County Medical Center that was used to justify more borrowing than planned in future years. Nor has it commented on the agreement forcing county officials to sacrifice $12.5 million in sorely needed sales tax income in 2007 by giving it to cities, towns and villages. And a key progress report from County Executive Joel A. Giambra was set aside for discussion at a later, unspecified date.
Then there are complaints that Regan and Vice Chairman P. David Campbell have run the authority as their own enterprise without involving the other five members in important decisions. Some, such as Kruly and Amherst businessman Anthony J. Baynes, are upset that Campbell on his own hired the director of the authority's new Office of Management and Productivity.
Baynes' disappointment grew when he learned the director, Fran Ritzenthaler, was an acquaintance of Campbell before he was named to the $85,000-a-year "director of initiative implementation." Giambra had already hired his $91,000-a-year "director of management initiatives," James M. Hartman. Both are working to transform a consultant's numerous money-saving suggestions into reality.
Divisions among Regan, Campbell and the other members grew even wider in late January when the chairman and vice chairman distributed a letter to as many parties as they could find to foster ideas for government collaboration that can help the region recover.
"We are now poised on the brink of success or failure. It is a very fine line," said their letter, written by a local attorney hired for the purpose.
Baynes and others complained they were not consulted about the lawyer, nor told how much he would cost, nor shown the letter in advance though it was written on authority stationery and, at times, appears to be a statement from the entire group.
>Controversy over check
Baynes thought the expense of an outside author was unnecessary, and as the authority's treasurer he refused to sign any check for attorney Mickey H. Osterreicher once it reached his desk. Baynes even forbade that a stamp bearing his signature be used for any authority check and now insists he will sign checks only after personal review, much like Amherst Supervisor Satish Mohan is doing.
In time, Osterreicher waived payment, blaming the negative publicity.
Control board members are not paid but can bill for "actual necessary expenses" incurred in the performance of their official duties. As expected, Regan has been reimbursed far more than any other member, almost $6,500 for his flights from New York City, taxis and lodging at the Adam's Mark hotel.
Regan and Campbell's expenses also show they are representing the authority in meetings with interested parties around the county -- the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, for example. Campbell also has met with Robert Wilmers of M&T Bank, former county comptroller candidate John Canavan and Tom Baker of the Oishei Foundation, a former member of Buffalo's control board.
In all, Campbell has sought reimbursement for $1,328 in expenses that include lunches, mileage to authority meetings, appointments and interviews, and a $334 trip to New York City in late July.
Stanley J. Keysa, the board's treasurer before Baynes, has billed for $374, mainly for mileage to meetings and public events.
The control board covers its expenses by taking whatever it needs from the sales tax income that flows back from Albany, after collection by the state Department of Taxation and Finance. The board has budgeted for $1.8 million this year, all but $400,000 coming from the sales tax proceeds. The remainder is to arrive in a state grant.
Campbell, who did not return a phone message Friday, has met with individual members in recent weeks to hear their worries about the board. Many members expect to hash out their differences Thursday. Regan, too, said he expects such a discussion.