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Erie County executive bristles at ‘bribe’ charge over road project

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz on Thursday called his relationship with Legislature Chairman John Mills “ruined” after Mills released a private voicemail from Poloncarz and accused the county executive of attempting to “bribe” him with the paving of a road in his district in exchange for support on other matters.

On the voicemail, Poloncarz mentions $800,000 available to repave a major road in Mills’ district and also mentions his desire to speak with Mills about several other issues of importance to him, including pending legislation and union contracts.

“That, to me, is a bribe,” Mills said. “He made the call to do this, and it was wrong.”

Poloncarz responded angrily Thursday morning, saying that his long-standing, working relationship with Mills has been damaged by the accusation.

Negotiation and compromise over matters of importance to both legislators and the county executive are routine, he said. He also said legislators do it just as frequently in his direction, holding up important matters of public health in exchange for promises of public works improvements in their districts.

“That’s horse trading,” Poloncarz said. “We horse trade all the time. If that can’t happen, there’s no governing because we have to negotiate to get things done, especially when it comes to the budget.”

Mills said he has a record of integrity, and that while horse trading happens between the county executive and the Legislature, it was wrong for Poloncarz to make him a specific offer of money to fix his district roads in exchange for Legislature compliance on other high-profile issues.

“That’s where he crossed the line,” Mills said.

Poloncarz said he doesn’t save personal voicemails from legislators asking him for consideration for their various pet projects in exchange for their support on other issues, but he receives those requests regularly. He also said Mills had previously promised to sign off on one of his appointments to the Erie County Industrial Development Agency but went back on his word in attempt to pressure him to do the Legislature’s bidding.

“This has had a serious, negative impact on my ability to trust the Legislature and negotiate in good faith,” he said.

He also said the outlook was dim for the road in Mills’ district to get paved. He said other county roads are in worse shape.

Mills said that while he has worked well with Poloncarz in the past, recent rifts have erupted in regard to Legislature’s charter revision law, which would have made it possible for legislators to run for four-year terms instead of two-year terms. Poloncarz’s refusal so far to sign the law kept the matter from going to referendum in November.

Whether his relationship with the county executive is irrevocably harmed depends on Poloncarz, Mills added.

“I’m willing to continue to work with him,” he said. “It won’t be the same, but the bottom line is I don’t take my marching orders from the county executive.”


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