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Editorial: Paging Republicans to stop golden parachutes at Water Authority

It’s good that a Democratic assemblywoman wants to take the air out of golden parachutes such as the one packed for the executive director of the Erie County Water Authority. But what about Senate Republicans? They have to play a role, too.

Sens. Patrick Gallivan, Chris Jacobs and Catharine Young: Please, sponsor and champion this in the Senate.

Ending this patronage prize should be at the top of the agenda for elected officials. They should be elbowing one another in the effort to protect ratepayers and possibly bring some transparency and better governance to what has become a rogue organization.

Could that really be expecting too much? Perhaps it doesn’t serve the political interest of those who could one day find themselves or their party in control of the water authority’s levers. So, why push for real change?

Here’s why: The patronage pit has gotten more expensive to maintain and the public that is paying for it is fed up.

In case anyone missed it, the authority’s executive director, Earl L. Jann Jr., is flying high with a golden parachute that would pay up to $400,000 if Democrats oust him from the job. He’s too expensive to fire, even though he has no plausible credentials for the job.

Much like his predecessors, Jann came to his position with no expertise in running so specific and complex an operation. His salary is $153,600 a year. The former pharmaceutical sales rep and longtime supervisor of the Town of Marilla previously served as a commissioner of the Water Authority. Not so coincidentally, his household has given roughly $16,000 to Republican causes throughout New York since he was appointed commissioner in 2011.

But such awards are by design. Dan Ward, a former Town of Amherst supervisor, told The News that members of the Water Authority’s governing board are extensions of their party organizations and are expected to keep party interests at the forefront. Neither Republicans nor Democrats are anxious to rock this political party boat.

Consider the noble effort of County Legislator Thomas A. Loughran. The Amherst Democrat introduced a measure last year to make political appointments more difficult for the top job at the Water Authority. It’s getting little traction.

Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz and Assemblywoman Monica Wallace, D-Lancaster, both expressed frustration with golden parachute deals. Poloncarz said there should be no golden parachutes, noting that there are none in county government. Wallace said she intends to introduce a bill that would ban golden parachutes as generous as Jann’s. They should be expunged altogether.

Wallace is aiming for a change in the law that governs public authorities in New York so that employees who serve at will would get no more than three months of severance pay. If approved, the cap would apply to future contracts but would not affect Jann’s deal.

This is the bill-in-the-making that demands Republican support. An even better one would end the use of all parachutes, which truthfully, shouldn’t be needed under any circumstances.

The county should make the position a civil service job. In fact, it should abolish the Water Authority altogether. That would eliminate the problem that authority Chairman Robert Anderson cited while tacitly, if inadvertently, acknowledging the raw politics of the appointments.

“We don’t want to change over an executive director every two years just because the parties change,” he said. That wouldn’t happen if a professional was in charge. Mayors don’t change police chiefs willy-nilly. They hire the best leader they can find and change when performance or departure requires it.

At the Erie County Water Authority, the manufacturers of expensive parachutes don’t much care about professionalism. Just patronage.

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