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What’s the point? Abolish the Water Authority Board, which only preserves the role of politics

Republicans will soon have the political patronage power on the Erie County Water Authority Board of Commissioners.

For the first time in two decades, the Republicans are about to hold the majority on the three-member board, which leads us to this novel idea, proposed in the past: Ask the state to get rid of the authority board.

That’s right. Why even maintain a Water Authority Board of Commissioners? It has long been known to be made up of political partisans. Some sort of way station for the connected, who get paid $22,500 and pull the levers for hiring (as ordered by political bosses) at the authority, all at the expense of ratepayers. And it is part-time work, which is an understatement in terms of time required. Where do we sign up?

Would the county water supply go dry without an authority board? How about one county-executive appointment? At least ratepayers would know who to vote out of office if they don’t like their water bill. Or, make the County Legislature responsible for rate hikes, which legislators may not like but again they could be held accountable and, if called for, voted out of office.

The Water Authority was established in 1949 for a good reason: to consolidate the region’s many small water systems and to create an integrated agency that could reduce the cost and duplication of water services.

As George Hasiotis, a former commissioner from 1996 to 2000 noted in The News several years ago, things went swimmingly for a while. The authority was a role model. The tide turned in the 1970s with local party bosses along with county legislators turning it into a politically controlled culture. Both parties are guilty. The authority has been plugged up with politics ever since.

Fast-forward to today’s news and five candidates who are seeking appointment to the seat currently held by Water Authority Board Chairman Francis G. Warthing, a Lackawanna Democrat whose second three-year term on the board expires in April.

As for the roster of five candidates who made the deadline to apply: former Amherst Town Highway Superintendent Robert N. Anderson, seen as the most likely to succeed. The other four named candidates: Peter Grollitsch, Dale Miklas, Joanne Panek-Hortman and Gerald Reinhard.

Initiative and political leadership could change this patronage system.