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Editorial: State puts the brakes on golden parachutes

We think of it as Earl’s law.

Thanks to the outrageously rich severance agreement that the Erie County Water Authority gave former director Earl L. Jann Jr. – a potential payday of $300,000 to $400,000 if Jann was fired in the first year – it is now illegal for state authorities to give more than 12 weeks of severance pay to at-will state appointees.

Jann’s severance agreement was a blatant stunt by the then-Republican majority of the Water Authority to keep their patronage guy from being fired. They knew Democrats had won control of the Erie County Legislature, which meant Democrats would soon control the Water Authority – and would want to install their own patronage guy.

Assemblywoman Monica P. Wallace, D-Lancaster, sponsored and championed the legislation. New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo recently signed the bill into law. It is appropriately called the Severance Pay Limitation Act.

Jann, who was dismissed in June 2018 on a technicality and without his severance package, has vigorously defended his record and qualifications. In a Sept. 18 letter to Everybody’s Column in The News, he emphasized his training in the U.S. Army to lay waterlines, the three water districts he started as Marilla Town Supervisor and the “land acquisition that I personally located and negotiated for the water tank and pump station.”

For what it’s worth, the Water Authority shows signs of wising up. After Jann, they appointed an executive director, Russell J. Stoll, who appears to have the expertise to run a water agency. He had been the authority’s executive engineer. He was promoted in September, at $175,000 a year and no employment contract. That’s progress.

Likewise, the Water Authority has become more open and transparent. Also progress.

We still think the Water Authority should be eliminated and folded into county government as a county department. Why pay for a board and all that goes with it? Why not hold the county executive responsible for efficient delivery of water, as we do for every other county service except the sheriff’s department? And why risk that some future board, after the spotlight is gone, won’t restore the old patronage-addled practices?

State lawmakers have the power to get it done. Bury this patronage pit.

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