Still need more evidence that the Erie County Water Authority is a sinkhole of party politics? The recent News story on donations flowing from authority executives and others to political machines ought to meet the test. It may be an informal version of pay to play, the notorious New York practice, but that’s what it is.
Look at the numbers: The comptroller has given $20,000 to state and local political funds, while the human resources director ponied up $23,000. Both are pikers compared to a part-time agency lawyer who offered up $43,000.
In all, as of the end of March, 45 non-union managers and lawyers, along with their spouses, had given a total of $408,000 since taking their Water Authority jobs.
It’s not just the parties that benefit. County Legislature candidates accepted $11,400 from the authority’s non-union staff in the most recent two-year cycle. That includes the three commissioners who oversee the organization.
How many thousands of dollars do you give your employer?
It’s par for the course at the Water Authority, where your willingness to give determines your opportunities for income. It appears to matter even more than experience, as the hiring of Earl L. Jann Jr. as the authority’s executive director well documents.
Jann is a former pharmaceutical sales rep and town supervisor. But he has given almost $16,000 to Republican accounts since he was hired as an authority commissioner in 2013. Now he makes more than $150,000 a year and has a golden parachute worth up to $400,000 if he is forced out of the job prematurely.
How much is your golden parachute worth?
That’s the way to get and keep a job at the Erie County Water Authority. “If you’re getting an $80,000 job, or 90 – you definitely know you’re giving,” one former staffer told The Buffalo News. The ex-employee was one of four who spoke to The News on condition of anonymity. “They could definitely make your life miserable,” one of the former workers told The News.
It ought to be illegal. As with any business, employees should be hired on merit. No private business would be managed this way. The pilot of your airplane and the worker in the control tower aren’t there because they gave enough money to the people who pulls the strings. Neither are the people who hired them.
The federal government has some understanding of this. Among other provision, the Hatch Act of 1939 forbids officials paid with federal funds from coercing campaign contributions or other political support through promises of jobs, promotions, contracts or other inducements.
The coercive policies at the Water Authority may not exactly mirror the prohibitions of the Hatch Act, but the intent is there: Pay to play.
It’s more evidence that the authority is an albatross for its customers and for anyone else who cares about the forthrightness in public service. The sneaky, dishonorable way this agency has long been managed has run its course. It needs to be put to rest.
There is no managerial reason the Water Authority cannot be merged into Erie County government as a separate department. County residents do not need to subsidize a poorly run, secretive agency whose organizational structure has as much to do with satisfying the financial thirsts of politicians as it does providing water to its customers. Enough.