Allegations of misbehavior regarding the arcane issue of Erie County bond insurance may be serious enough to warrant more than the internal "small investigation" promised by the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority. At the very least, a control board that depends on the public's trust needs to be as transparent as possible as it looks into this case.
If the county comptroller is right, and a representative of the control board sabotaged a deal and drove up taxpayer costs, then taxpayers need to know. Indeed, with a public official as highly placed as Comptroller Mark Poloncarz leveling the charge, taxpayers must know the facts. The answer will reflect badly on at least one institution of importance to county residents.
This is Poloncarz' allegation: He says he negotiated favorable rates for bond insurance, but during an October conference call, the control board's downstate financial adviser, Richard Tortora, said the companies involved told him they no longer backed those quotes.
Poloncarz accused Tortora of talking the companies out of offering those rates to the county so that the control board could do the borrowing. If that happened, it would not only count as a betrayal of the public interest, but a breach of ethical standards.
The comptroller says the control board wants to borrow, even if there are no significant savings, to guarantee its existence long into the future, with taxpayers footing the bill for staff that would otherwise not be needed.
The control board's executive director, Kenneth Vetter, responds that the board will continue to exist through 2039 as a matter of statute, and that even if some bonds still need to be repaid after that, arrangements can be made to take care of that without a formally constituted control board.
The procedural arguments are arcane and, we suspect, of not great significance to most county residents. What might trouble them, though, is if a representative of the control board purposely raised taxpayers costs to further some political agenda.
A control board has two sources of strength: the law that created it and the confidence of the population whose interests it is meant to safeguard. An episode such as Poloncarz alleges could undermine that necessary confidence, which could lead to changes in the law.
The control board needs to take this charge seriously. It -- or someone else, such as the state attorney general -- needs to investigate it and either offer convincing evidence that it didn't happen or, if it did, get rid of those responsible.