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Perhaps it goes without saying, but it shouldn't: The Erie County Water Authority is playing a fast-and-loose game with the revenues of rate-payers, defending with a wink and a nod its intolerable practice of larding its ranks with the friends and relatives of the well-connected.
The most recent hire, as reported recently in The News, was Robb Poloncarz, brother of Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz. Robb Poloncarz, a former chef, was provisionally hired as a contract monitor. The job was not advertised, nor has a civil service exam been held.
We have already commented on that charade - Poloncarz is hardly alone in this - but now commissioners of the Water Authority are doubling down. Not only do they continue to make careless hiring decision, but they actually made a point of defending the indefensible. Do they think their customers are idiots?
In a nutshell, here is what the authority believes is a sensible and efficient way to run a business with a $68 million budget: Hire anyone.
Imagine any private-sector business adopting the Water Authority approach. You're the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and you need someone to play the oboe. Hire a chef!
Or maybe you're a contractor and you need electricians to help you meet demand. Don't advertise, hire a professional bowler. He may not know what he's doing, but he's the boss's brother and, well ... you know.
Two of the authority's commissioners were wounded by criticism of their hiring practices, saying that they have cut staff in recent years. What is more, said Commissioner Earl L. Jann Jr., "Frankly, we have a very good workforce, a very efficient workforce."
That may be true, but if it is, it's a matter of dumb luck, not the kind of care and planning real businesses put into these kinds of decisions.
It needs to change. The commissioners said they would consider setting up a more formal process to advertise jobs and, thus, ensure they are hiring the most capable workers, but what's to consider? Maybe how to do it, certainly not whether. Unlike most of government, this really is a business. Why not run it like one?
This system has been long supported by both political parties and elected officials. That, on its own, is a disgrace. Surely someone in public office is willing to make an issue of this - to investigate the practices of the Erie County Water Authority and then to push for changes.
There are 11 members of the Erie County Legislature and some of them must care about constituents whose water bills are underwriting a reckless policy. Those lawmakers should start getting some answers and demanding reform. If no legislators do that, county voters will know whose side they are on.