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Erie County comptroller accused of downplaying role in ethics probe

Members of the Erie County executive’s administration have accused Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw of being deceitful with the county Board of Ethics and misrepresenting facts regarding the award of a major contract to a local accounting firm after its chairman helped cover the tuition for Mychajliw to attend a Harvard University leadership program.

Local accounting firm Freed Maxick was awarded a $40,000 county contract two months after its chairman, Robert Glaser, agreed to help pay for Mychajliw to attend a monthlong Harvard program for government officials in July 2014. And Mychajliw had originally recommended a more expanded contract with Freed Maxick that could have been worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“That is some interesting timing,” said Timothy Callan, the deputy budget director for County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz.

Mychajliw responded that the words of a “biased and hyperpartisan political hack” should not overrule the findings of the impartial, independent Ethics Board.

The Ethics Board ruled in December that Mychajliw violated county rules by soliciting and accepting contributions from Glaser or nine other businessmen and friends, who each contributed an average of $1,000 toward Mychajliw’s $12,400 in Harvard tuition costs. However, the board also stated that it found no evidence Mychajliw rewarded any of these contributors with political favors in exchange for their contributions.

Their independent finding is what should matter to taxpayers, Mychajliw said. He and his staff said they answered all the questions raised by the Board of Ethics in an “open, honest and transparent manner” and that the board was satisfied with their responses.

“We believe this is a moot point and old news,” he said. “The Board of Ethics had all the information.”

Steven Schwartz, chairman of the Board of Ethics, said the board based its findings on the response given by the comptroller and his staff that Erie County contract agreements are initiated by the county executive and approved by the County Legislature. In the case of Freed Maxick, Mychajliw told the board that his office issued a request for proposals to numerous accounting firms and that responses were vetted by a separate committee.

Callan called it “disingenuous” for Mychajliw to omit the fact that the committee that vetted company responses was composed of political appointees within his own office, and that his office recommended to the county executive and to the Legislature that Freed Maxick be awarded an expanded contract to perform a county risk assessment study and assume other county audit functions.

Callan did not suggest that Freed Maxick was not the best qualified firm to do the work but said that Mychajliw’s actions raise deeper ethical questions.

Glaser, the Freed Maxick chairman, has contributed heavily to the campaigns of both Poloncarz and Mychajliw.

In 2013, he contributed $5,000 to Poloncarz and $2,000 to Mychajliw. Glaser contributed another $500 to Mychajliw this past June.