I don’t have to make the argument to dissolve the Erie County Water Authority. Politicians keep doing it for me.
The county executive is the latest to lighten my columnist load. Mark Poloncarz continued the long, inglorious political tradition of using the Water Authority as a job-placement service. He just filled a long-vacant $55,132 contract-monitoring slot with his brother, a chef.
I have no insight into Robb Poloncarz’s culinary talents. But he presumably knows how to boil water. Which makes him good enough for the Water Authority.
OK, there were other criteria. Criteria that could have been met by thousands of job-seekers. Only one of them, however, filled the primary qualification – having the last name of Poloncarz. What, you thought only Joel Giambra had a “Friends and Family” plan?
It amounts to more than routinely odoriferous business as usual. The chronic political abuse at the Water Authority pulls money out of our pockets. As a previous Buffalo News story noted, we on the shore of Lake Erie pay more for water than folks in land-locked, blown-dry Phoenix. It is no accident. An ex-Water Authority official told me Thursday that the authority annually flushes some $2 million down the drain in bloated managerial pay, unneeded patronage jobs and over-fattened contracts. Not to mention the ongoing failure to consolidate the county’s cost-spiking cornucopia of five water plants.
The county comptroller has the oversight power to audit the place. Until recently, that comptroller was – drum roll, please – Mark Poloncarz. Needless to say, no audit was done.
Make no mistake: Poloncarz is just one of a legion of politicians who drink at the Water Authority trough. In a show of cooperation that seldom extends to governing, Republicans and Democrat share the patronage spoils – down to alternately filling the three job- and contract-dispensing commissioner slots. Only a comptroller with a political death wish – or a conscience – would mess with a bipartisan-beneficial system.
Politicians for years have used the authority to repay party soldiers with jobs – and to reward with contracts the law firms, contractors, engineers and insurers who write checks to party-machine candidates. It is partly how our broken political system, which fuels an exodus of jobs and people, keeps chugging along. Repeat after me: I Love NY.
All of which argues for the authority to be remade as a county department, like highways or sewers.
“It would not make it pristine,” said Kathy Konst. “But there at least would be some oversight.”
Konst pushed for a county takeover when she was a legislator. Her bucket was tipped when fellow lawmakers, bowing to Democratic party boss Len Lenihan, in 2006 signed off on Fran Warthling as authority commissioner. Warthling is a politically wired Lackawanna jeweler whose prior involvement with water was drinking it.
“You want somebody who at least knows what he is doing,” Konst told me, disgustedly. “They couldn’t even coach [Warthling] through an interview.”
By flexing his muscle to land his brother a job, Poloncarz continues the gut-churning tradition.
Pass the barf bag.