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THE TROUBLE IN PARKS IS ONE OF MANY CASES OF CRONYISM RUN AMOK

IT HAS BECOME a long-running serial, a daily feature.
Pick up the newspaper and read the latest accusation about Bob Delano and the Parks Department. Every day it's something different, be it a new twist to Christmas bonuses (employee to boss -- a unique management concept) or road salt in the Delaware Park lake.

With the tight focus on Delano, though, the bigger picture is being overlooked.

In the bigger picture, Bob Delano stands not as an aberration. Rather, he's the sort of dubiously qualified fellow Jimmy Griffin often advances.

We've all heard of the Peter Principle: People rise to their level of incompetence.

The Griffin Principle: Hire one's cronies, whether or not they're qualified; they just might work out.

And if they don't, well, it's too bad -- for the department and the taxpayers.

By the terms of the Griffin Principle, competence in high places is purely accidental.

Delano, who was No. 2 in the Parks Department before taking over, was actually one of Griffin's more qualified appointees. (A sobering thought.)

CORRECTION: 1-31-90 B-8
"GRISANTI IS NO LONGER VICE PRESIDENT OF ONE OF MAYOR GRIFFIN'S POLITICAL CLUBS...HE DID HOLD THAT POSITION UNTIL SEVERAL YEARS AGO. GRISANTI ALSO STATED THAT HE HAS CERTIFICATION AS A PUBLIC HOUSING MANAGER, WHICH THE FEDERAL DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT REQUIRES FOR THE JOB HE HOLDS." The head of the Municipal Housing Authority is Lawrence Grisanti. Before taking over, Grisanti -- who, not coincidentally, is vice president of one of the mayor's political clubs -- was head of the Parking Violations Bureau. Before that, he was a music teacher.

How did chasing parking scofflaws and giving piano lessons prepare him to head a federally funded agency designed to serve 8,900 poor and elderly people in the 27 projects?

Ask the mayor.

The second-in-command over at the police department is Joe Scinta (though it's generally conceded that Griffin runs things, even down to transfers).

Usually, a captain or inspector is promoted to the No. 2 slot. Scinta, in 17 years on the force, never rose above the Civil Service rank of patrolman. Griffin forced the retirement of a 40-year veteran to open the position for Scinta.

That was better, however, than what might have happened.

Griffin at first tried to make Scinta the streets sanitation commissioner -- a bit of a stretch for a career cop. The Common Council (nitpickers that they are) objected to someone without credentials filling one of the city's most important spots. They rejected Scinta's appointment 12 times before Griffin relented.

Unfortunately, during that nine-month charade, the Blizzard of '85 hit. There was no top gun to direct snow removal. After a week, the state called in the National Guard to clear Buffalo's streets.

Then, of course, there is the mayor's brother, Tommy, who preceded Delano at the Parks Department.

The federal government is still looking for the $73,000 allegedly misspent on a lunch program for needy children. Operating the program were Tommy Griffin and (that name again) Bob Delano.

Tommy Griffin kept a close eye on the program from the vantage point of a Florida condominium. City auditors say he collected more than $5,500 in salary while at his Fort Lauderdale digs.

Tommy Griffin's political career ended about two years ago, when he was convicted of property tax fraud in Florida.

Now, let's not be naive. Griffin is hardly the first politician to reward the faithful with jobs. Patronage has been part of politics since presidents wore powdered wigs.

Griffin, however, has taken the practice beyond the outer limits -- both at the top and through the ranks. And he often has done it without any pretense of appointee qualification. In your face, taxpayers.

Who suffers?

Obviously, qualified workers who deserve to get ahead but don't. Who are passed over because they don't have the "right" politics. When it happens often enough, morale drops.

In a broader sense, we all suffer.

When good workers don't advance, they stop caring as much. When people of dubious ability fill the ranks, the place doesn't run the way it should.

A quick example: Grisanti's Housing Authority -- where, in a recent one-year period, two-thirds of those promoted or hired were or became affiliated with one of Griffin's political clubs.

Though the federal government foots most of the bill, how well are tenants served when ability is secondary to allegiance in hiring?

In a recent News survey, the BMHA had the highest operating cost and largest staff of 15 agencies of similar size. Oddly, it also had the second-highest apartment vacancy rate.

Despite a 20 percent increase in staff under Grisanti, there are now four times as many vacant apartments as when he took over four years ago. There is also a waiting list of 3,000 people.

Last year, HUD ruled that the projects were so segregated that they violated the Civil Rights Act.

What did Jimmy Griffin have to say about all of this?

"We'll continue to work with HUD Secretary Jack Kemp to reduce the Housing Authority's vacancy rates -- but it's gonna be tough."

Ranked 14th out of 15, and it's gonna be tough?

More to the point: How do Griffin's curious hiring and promoting methods do anybody -- other than him and his followers -- any good?

This is not to imply that other departments suffer the same shenanigans the Parks Department is accused of. Or that there are no more than a few competent people in city government.

The point is, Bob Delano is hardly the only guy of low qualification in high position. And the Parks Department is hardly the only place where people who should get ahead, don't.

Or where, it seems, the taxpayers aren't getting their money's worth.

The only mystery about all of this is how the man in City Hall retains his image as a man of the people.

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