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County auditors to examine Water Authority

Erie County auditors will look at hiring practices at the Erie County Water Authority as part of a wide-ranging audit.
County Comptroller David J. Shenk has notified the Water Authority that his staff will conduct an entrance interview this week to start examining whether the agency has addressed problems found in earlier audits.
County auditors also will look into hiring and purchasing practices, whether the agency complies with the state Public Authorities Law and how its operations compare with other water authorities, according to a letter Shenk sent to the Water Authority.
"The Erie County Water Authority is not a sacred cow, and I think it's long overdue, because it's been over 10 years," Shenk said.
The Water Authority has long been criticized for the number of politically connected people who work for the agency, a concern revived last month after the authority hired Robb Poloncarz, the brother of Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, to serve as a contract monitor without advertising the opening.
The Buffalo News reported earlier this month that the Water Authority regularly fills positions without advertising, instead relying on resumés on file or on word of mouth to fill positions that don't require civil service exams or those that are filled on a provisional basis before a test is held.
Commissioners said they would consider implementing a more formal process.
Shenk, however, said he had planned to conduct an audit of the Water Authority well before the Poloncarz hire, based on the fact that the last time the Comptroller's Office reviewed the agency was under former Comptroller Nancy Naples in 2000.
"We cooperate fully with any audit that takes place with any of the oversight organizations," said Matthew J. Baudo, secretary to the Water Authority and personnel director.
Shenk's primary objective is to examine whether the Water Authority has implemented the recommendations of state and county auditors who have reviewed the agency's operations in the past.
Those recommendations were wide-ranging, from establishing a written policy explaining who can operate authority vehicles to reviewing cellphone bills to ensure they are used according to the agency's policies.
Shenk, former Boston town clerk, is running for election in November to his first full term. He was appointed county comptroller by the Erie County Legislature in February based on a recommendation from the Erie County Democratic Committee to replace former Comptroller Mark C. Poloncarz after Poloncarz's election to the county executive's office.
Shenk will face Republican Stefan Mychajliw, a former television news reporter.
Mychajliw said he believes an audit of the Water Authority should have been done months ago.
"We really need to take a strong look at hiring practices across the board in county government," Mychajliw said. "We need to go a lot deeper than just the Water Authority. We need to make sure that people are hired based on what they know, not who they know."
Mychajliw is promising a top-to-bottom review of county hiring practices if elected. In a statement released Sunday, he said his first order of business as comptroller would be to end to what he calls "friends and family" plans at County Hall, the county Board of Elections and the Water Authority.

Staff writer Phil Fairbanks contributed to this report. email: