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Editorial: Jann has no business heading the county Water Authority

Everybody who pays attention knows that the Erie County Water Authority is a patronage pit. It’s one of the reasons the authority even exists: so that politicians can reward their favorite supporters with jobs.

Patronage is how Earl L. Jann Jr. made it onto the authority’s board, landing a job that paid him $22,500 a year. As a retired pharmaceutical sales rep and a longtime Marilla supervisor, he had precious little relevant experience for the position.

But it’s getting worse. Relying, perhaps, on the theory that there’s no harm in asking, Jann now wants to be named the authority’s executive director, at a salary of more than $145,000 a year.

Here’s a question: Shouldn’t a professional be in charge of ensuring that clean, safe water is reliably delivered to the authority’s tens of thousands of customers? A school district surely wouldn’t hire a pharmaceutical sales rep as its superintendent, would it? A hospital wouldn’t go looking for a town supervisor to become its chief executive officer, would it?

So why should the Erie County Water Authority settle for inexperience when it can scour the country for a professional who might jump at the chance to earn $145,000 a year? How about a little respect for the position and the people its holder is meant to serve?

Jann doesn’t see it that way. He pitches his half-dozen years on the board as sufficient training to take on the complex and critical job of CEO at the authority.

“For my six years as a board member, I have worked to reform the Authority’s employee relations, fix a deteriorating infrastructure, and replace an outdated IT system,” he said in a statement to The Buffalo News. “There are many important things that still need to be done. With my board term finishing, I realize these remaining tasks require me to roll up my sleeves and take on a daily role within the Authority.”

Well, no.

His realizing not withstanding, if Jann is truly passionate about contributing to the Water Authority, he should volunteer his time. There are many areas, we are sure, where he could be of assistance, beginning with the task of finding an appropriate candidate to lead the enterprise. County ratepayers shouldn’t be asked to continue to underwrite this kind of expensive and unethical political back-scratching.

In truth, Erie County should not have a Water Authority at all. It’s an unnecessary expense that does nothing to improve on what a county or municipal water department could accomplish. Instead, it’s a dumping ground that exists so that elected officials can give jobs to politically connected people who may or may not belong in those positions. Inexperience is no disqualifier.

Before Jann can be offered this position, the Water Authority board needs to conduct an extensive and thorough search for an experienced candidate who can actually bring something valuable to the table. If, after that diligent effort, the authority can document that Jann is the best choice for the board, then so be it.

But he should start sending out resumés.

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