An Erie County government employee has been banned from the Rath Building for inadvertently bringing bedbugs to work.
The worker was told not to return without providing medical documentation that he or she is bedbug-free. Co-workers reported the matter to the Comptroller's Office and said the employee's work furniture was thrown away.
The case is among the 50 or so reports that came into the Erie County Comptroller's Office after Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw invited county employees to call his Whistleblower Hotline to report bedbug complaints. The Whistleblower Hotline is typically used to confidentially provide information about potential fraud and wrongdoing in-house.
"My comprehensive report on the subject calls for a community-based approach to solving the problem," Mychajliw said. "The first step in solving the problem is getting the administration to acknowledge it exists."
Among the complaints:
- An employee reported spending a lot of money to rid bedbugs from his or her home, believing they originated at the Rath Building.
- Employees voiced concerns that bedbugs were being transported to other departments and courts through folders of paperwork coming from the Department of Social Services.
As of August, the county has spent nearly $4,000 fighting bedbugs. The county also introduced a new anti-clutter policy last month to help eradicate the blood-sucking creatures, but it is now considering taking additional steps, such as bringing in bedbug-detecting dogs to hunt down the pests. Ten floors and all elevators in the Rath Building have been sprayed or resprayed since the problem surfaced in the fall.
“My administration has vigorously attacked the problem of reported bedbugs in the building since the first sighting was confirmed," said County Executive Mark Poloncarz in a statement. "This includes repeated spraying of floors, as well as establishing new protocols for employees regarding the storing of clothes and other materials that insects of any kind seek.
"While some items have been misidentified as being bedbugs, including lint and dust and, in the most recent accusation by the Comptroller’s Office of a bedbug sighting in the Family Court Building, a beetle, additional cases have been confirmed in recent weeks with the insects' having been brought into the building by our clients, and in two cases, our employees."
The comptroller's report recommends the county take a more comprehensive and proactive approach to dealing with the parasites and consider offers from extermination companies to develop a stronger response at no initial cost. The document also includes a report from the University of Washington about how government should deal with bedbugs.
Mychajliw said that exterminators have told him it can cost up to $2,000 just to treat an average home for bedbugs, so the amount of money the county has spent to deal with the Rath Building situation is clearly not enough.
County officials, however, have accused Mychajliw of creating "hysteria" that disrupts county services and helps no one on a matter that is already being addressed. Poloncarz also criticized Mychajliw for his use of the Whistleblower Hotline.
"As the former county comptroller who created the Whistleblower Hotline, I am disappointed the current comptroller would take a valuable resource for protecting the people’s tax dollars and use it for nothing more than the generation of hype and hysteria in the hopes of generating free media for his re-election campaign," Poloncarz said. "That is truly a waste of taxpayers' resources. We want our employees to let us know of any possible sighting of a bedbug as soon as possible so we can treat it, and there is a protocol in place to do so.”
Mychajliw responded that employees clearly believe their concerns are being insufficient attention by the administration and their union.
"Don't take the administration's word for it," he said. "Don't take my word for it. Listen to the employees in the report, and they are petrified."