Depending on which side of the political fence you're on, it's either a dangerous kind of sloppiness or just an "administrative omission."
Whatever the name for it, the fact is that a good number of people appointed by outgoing County Executive Dennis T. Gorski to county positions and boards over the years never filled out the right first-day paperwork -- more specifically, their state-required "oath cards."
That means that technically their positions have been vacant all along.
"It's the stupidest thing I ever saw," said Legislature Chairman Charles M. Swanick, D-Kenmore. "It's a technicality. I'm sorry it came up so late in the year, but it did."
The Legislature on Thursday voted -- over objections by some Republicans that the positions should be filled by County Executive-elect Joel A. Giambra -- to formally reappoint the list of names of appointees who never filled out the cards. No new names were appointed, and the lengths of none of the terms was changed. The vote passed, 11-6.
Democrats defended the action as simply ensuring that appointees stay in their current positions, authorizing them to fill out the oath cards -- unassuming, index-card-size pieces of paper required by state law of all employees, elected officials and appointees of Erie County.
The cards include an individual's name and title and read, in part: "I do hereby pledge and declare that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of New York, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of (my) position . . . "
But Legislature Republicans, and some in the incoming Giambra administration, weren't happy about the measure.
"A vacancy is a vacancy, as far as I'm concerned," said Minority Leader Frederick J. Marshall, R-East Aurora, who said Giambra should get to fill the positions.
Bruce L. Fisher, Giambra's chief of staff in the new county government, also criticized the snafu.
"It's at the very least carelessness or sloppiness," Fisher said. "It's something a little bit more than a technical oversight. If it were a technical snafu, there wouldn't be a state statute devoted to it."
As best as officials in both administrations can tell, the problem has been going on for years.
While the cards are usually kept on file in the county clerk's office, the county clerk has not been required by law to make sure employees and appointees fill them out and hand them in.
In January, the Legislature will consider making that kind of enforcement of the oath card law a mandatory part of the county clerk's job description, said Swanick. He said that while some areas of county government have been careful to keep the cards up to date -- the Legislature, for example, hasn't had a problem -- many other departments and appointed boards have let the process fall through the cracks.
Investigations will continue on both sides to figure out how the problem began.
Fisher said Giambra's legal team will be doing research in that area, as well as to see whether there are any potential legal issues involved. "We'll be anxiously awaiting the results," he said.
In the Gorski administration, meanwhile, County Attorney Kenneth A. Schoetz said the situation will not jeopardize any of the decisions made by the appointees or boards during the period the cards were not filled out. "There's case law on that," Schoetz said.