Attorney Christopher J. O’Brien has the support of Democrats on the Erie County Legislature to replace John O’Donnell as a commissioner on the Erie County Water Authority.
Legislature Chairwoman Betty Jean Grant, D-Buffalo, said the six Democrats, who hold a majority on the Legislature, all signed a petition supporting O’Brien for the three-year term Thursday after hearing from nine people who have submitted resumés for the $22,500 part-time post.
The full 11-member Legislature is expected to vote on the nomination next Thursday.
Legislators spent nearly three hours during a public meeting Thursday interviewing candidates for the appointment to the three-member Water Authority board when O’Donnell’s term expires in April.
O’Brien, a trial attorney who has served on the University at Buffalo Council since 2007, told legislators he believes there is room to study whether the size of the authority’s workforce could be reduced.
“I think there’s always a possibility for critical analysis of whether staffing is appropriate, of how the ratepayers’ money is being spent,” O’Brien said. “I am aware that in the last few years – it’s not like it was in the ’70s – there have been some strides made in a positive direction in terms of the staff being smaller than it has been in the past. I’d like to continue along that path, if it makes sense.”
O’Donnell, a lobbyist whose three-year term as an authority commissioner will expire in April, said he believes leaders of the county’s Democratic Party were vying to have him replaced because he has pushed for change within the authority.
“I know you’re going to hear from party bosses who are going to tell you that they’ve got another choice,” O’Donnell told the legislators. “In fact, you may have already heard that, but I’m here to tell you today there’s no Democratic way to deliver water. There’s no Republican way to deliver water. There’s only the responsible way to deliver water to the ratepayers of the Erie County Water Authority.”
Among the challenges facing the Water Authority, O’Donnell told legislators, is a declining customer base and an enduring political culture that has seen jobs go to those with political ties. The authority instituted a new policy last fall to advertise all job openings on its website before they are filled.
The other candidates who interviewed Thursday were Daniel G. Gurnett Jr., Patricia E. Wolfsohn, Joseph N. Weiss, Harold Rice Jr., Joseph A. Mascia, Jeffrey D. Brzyski and Peter C. Grollitsch.
The five members of the Legislature’s Minority Caucus are not expected to put forth a name for the position.
Grant must formally submit a name for nomination next week before the full Legislature can vote on the appointment. She said after the interviews Thursday that she had not had any discussions with party leaders about the appointment.
“I’ve been here as an independent individual for six years,” Grant said. “And I don’t bow to political pressure.”