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Hiring of convicted ex-council member shows nothing has changed at Water Authority

Turns out being convicted of a crime involving a violation of the public trust does not disqualify you from being hired by the Erie County Water Authority. It’s just the latest head-shaking action by the authority.

The authority must clean up what is widely and accurately viewed as a political cesspool. And that can start by calling a halt to the hiring of out-of-work politicians.

Former Cheektowaga Councilman Charlie Markel is set to start work Monday as a temporary water utility worker, which pays a tidy salary of $45,260 annually. Not a bad living around these parts.

In April, Markel left office. Rather, he was pushed out. Shoved, after being convicted of unemployment insurance fraud. He was halfway through his second term when he pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge. He was in no hurry to step down, but he had to go. Public Officers Law states that once an elected official enters a guilty plea, the office is considered vacant because, as reported by News staff writer Janice L. Habuda, “It involves a violation of the oath of office.”

Markel’s sentence: one-year conditional discharge. He repaid $7,136 in benefits he received after the closure of the convenience store where he worked. He received those benefits while he was still collecting a $20,680-a-year check as a council member. His attorney, Thomas J. Eoannou, steadfastly maintained that Markel informed the unemployment office that he worked as a councilman after he noticed the discrepancy.

Markel ran to regain the office, but voters in the primary wisely rejected his bid for further “public” service.

It turns out, however, that his services have been deemed valuable by the Water Authority. And Markel’s temporary job is probably just the start of his Water Authority career. If an opening occurs, he could be considered for permanent status.

The authority has claimed in the past that it has responded to accusations of patronage hiring by taking steps to widen the pool of applicants for openings. If the authority did examine a wider pool of candidates for this vacancy, it ended up doing business as usual, hiring someone with political ties.

In another case, Terrence B. McCracken, who spent a short time as an Erie County legislator, was reinstated last month as the authority’s director of employee relations.

McCracken’s reinstatement is also a head-scratcher, given he was fired within a couple of weeks of his appointment this past summer because it was believed he didn’t meet civil service requirements. After further review, the authority’s leadership decided that he did, indeed, meet the minimum qualifications for a job paying $96,934 a year.

Last year was a good one for politically connected job seekers. Timothy Meegan, son of West Seneca Supervisor Sheila Meegan, and Sean O’Neil, a former County Legislature aide, started work as water utility workers. Attorney Timothy Gallagher was appointed part-time counsel. Gallagher is a member of the Conservative Party’s executive committee and the son of Ray Gallagher, a former state senator and former chairman of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.