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Latest shenanigans just more evidence of the need to reform Water Authority

By hiring a Republican lawyer from Albany, the new Republican majority on the Erie County Water Authority Board of Commissioners has shown just how far it will go in order to fulfill expectations of the rankest sort of political patronage.

Water customers should be infuriated.

At a minimum, ratepayers should demand to know how an out-of-town lawyer with plenty of political connections but no experience in public works qualifies for a job paying more than $132,000. That should be no surprise. He’s replacing a Democrat whose pre-Water Authority experience involved public housing inspections. To ease the pain of losing his job, Democrat Matthew J. Baudo will stay on for a while at an annual salary of $126,750 to smooth the transition.

With 235 employees and a $68.3 million budget, up substantially from $65.9 million last year, the Water Authority has once again proven that it’s not what you know, but who you know.

The highly politicized three-member board shifts from red to blue, depending on which party controls the County Legislature. The board in turn hands out lucrative jobs to equally non-deserving but well-connected individuals.

The practice is indefensible and the attempt to justify the latest appointment is laughable.

As News reporter Harold McNeil wrote on Sunday, the latest beneficiary of this system is Republican lawyer Joseph T. Burns, formerly an official at the state Board of Elections in Albany. Burns, who takes over as authority secretary, is a close associate of Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy who, of course, has denied any influence on the selection.

Langworthy said Burns is “very qualified,” and directed questions to Water Authority Chairman Earl L. Jann Jr., who said Burns “far exceeds the qualifications for the position.” Jann later began waffling: “The job description is very fluid. As an exempt employee, there are no specific qualifications for the job.”

Unremarkably, while the job was posted on the authority’s website, Burns was the only applicant.

Baudo held the post for 19 years. One former authority insider said he got the job “because he played basketball with Tony Masiello,” the former Buffalo mayor who had named Baudo his director of property inspections.

A couple of years ago, Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, described what was then, and still is now, a scandal-rocked Albany: “It becomes more and more difficult to avoid the sad conclusion that political corruption in New York is indeed rampant and that a show-me-the-money culture in Albany is alive and well.”

He might as well have been talking about the Erie County Water Authority, where high-paying jobs are handed out in return for past and future favors.

The system needs to change, and the first step is to get rid of the part-time, all-powerful board, whose members get paid $22,500 to do the bidding of their political bosses.

Replace them temporarily with a team of professional managers with public works experience while state and county officials work on eliminating the Water Authority entirely.