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Openly crooked No pretenses in this year's appointment to Erie County Water Authority's board

It went largely unnoticed a few days ago -- a Legislature was honest about its dishonesty.

Each year, the Erie County Legislature sends out a public call for applicants to the Erie County Water Authority's board of commissioners, the three-member panel that oversees the agency that pipes Lake Erie water to some 550,000 people in Buffalo's suburbs. The Legislature appoints one member a year to a three-year term.

Each year, a handful of well-qualified and civic-minded residents come forward, eager to serve. (By the way, the part-time job pays $22,500 a year.)

Each year, the Legislature gives those civic-minded folks a pat on the head and sends them on their way.

Lawmakers then appoint the political functionary whom party forces deigned to receive the appointment. Under a long-standing arrangement, the major political parties take turns naming Water Authority commissioners.

In short, candidates are chosen for their political connections and little else. The call for applicants near and far is a ruse, to pretend that lawmakers have put some energy and objectivity into their selection.

This year, for whatever reason, the call for applicants was not widely circulated. So with little muss and fuss, the Legislature reappointed Fran Warthling to another three-year term. Warthling more than qualifies as a water agency overseer because, after all, he serves as Democratic Party chairman in Lackawanna, runs a tight political crew there and remains loyal to the county's Democratic Party chairman, Leonard R. Lenihan.

The six Democratic lawmakers who control the County Legislature are not currently experiencing a nasty intra-party rift, so Warthling breezed back onto a board that picks the pockets of its customers for a little more money nearly every year.

What's worse than a stale, old, politically driven selection process? An attempt to pretend that it's really an above-board call for candidates that will reward the best-qualified person.

The County Legislature this year put the spin aside. Smell that fresh air.