Editorial: Politics vs. practicality - The Buffalo News

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Editorial: Politics vs. practicality

While new Amherst Town Supervisor Brian J. Kulpa’s recent announcement that he plans to share an employee with the Village of Williamsville is encouraging, it does not negate his troubling decision to hire his campaign manager as an $81,800 chief of staff.

Both are new positions. One makes practical sense. The other political sense.

The political optics should have made the decision to hire Joseph McMahon uncomfortable the new supervisor. Kulpa and the other four members of the Town Board are all Democrats.

Nevertheless – or perhaps because of that – all agreed it was a fine idea to hire Kulpa’s 2017 campaign manager, Joseph McMahon, as his chief of staff. Kulpa also named the wife of a Williamsville trustee as his secretary at a salary of $41,196.

McMahon works as a community liaison for Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, also a Democrat. He is the main contact for homeowners associations, taxpayers associations and block clubs. He also plays the same role among the County Executive’s Office and several county departments.

Kulpa says McMahon will improve communication among town departments, his office and the public. Perhaps, but it sounds more like traditional Erie County patronage, especially given that his predecessors didn’t require the extra help.

The supervisor said he made financial provisions for the new job by cutting one deputy town attorney position and using additional funds already included in his office’s budget to pay for the position. There are currently two deputy town attorneys instead of three.

Perhaps trimming one deputy attorney is a good idea, but creating a new position for your former campaign manager, not so much. It reeks of the kind of favoritism that pervades government in New York.

Meanwhile, and more encouragingly, the new supervisor plans to hire Maggie Hamilton Winship as Amherst’s director of strategic planning. Winship, who served as Williamsville’s director of community development when Kulpa was the village’s mayor, would draw about $75,000 per year from the town, with the village paying about $15,000 of her salary. She would work for the village one day a week.

From the shared services perspective, it works. Her hiring would not add to the town’s payroll as she would fill the opening from the expected retirement of Amherst’s longtime planning director, Eric Gillert, according to Kulpa. Just as valuable, the move sets a good example for other municipalities to follow. What other positions around Erie County could be shared expenses?

Internal promotions would fill remaining planning department vacancies and the town would put Winship in her new role in place of hiring a traditional planner for the department. Kulpa, himself an urban planner, said during his campaign that the town needs a vision and a plan. As he said recently, the town could use an “employee focused on economic development and redevelopment.”

That focus is especially important, as he said, considering Amherst’s busy retail corridors along Kenmore Avenue, Niagara Falls Boulevard and Eggert Road, and also in promoting the reuse of vacant office buildings around the town.

So far, the score is one part practical and the other political.

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