on March 15, 2013 - 6:19 PM
, updated March 16, 2013 at 2:31 PM
The Erie County Water Authority will not renew the contract of Robert A. Mendez, its longtime executive director.
The decision not to renew the contract, which is set to expire at the end of this month, was made in a unanimous vote by the authority’s three-member board of commissioners.
While the vote was taken last week, details were still emerging late Friday as to the perks that Mendez, 55, who earns about $154,630 in salary, might take with him if he leaves the authority post he’s occupied for 17 years. His severance package is believed to include lifetime health insurance and as much as a full year’s salary.
Matthew J. Baudo, the secretary to the authority, confirmed the board’s action of March 7 but cautioned against speculating that Mendez might be leaving the authority altogether.
“Nobody’s saying that he’s leaving; nobody’s saying that he’s staying,” Baudo said. “There was a resolution passed putting Mr. Mendez on notice that the authority doesn’t wish to renew his contract.”
Mendez was notified in December of the commissioners’ intention to not renew his deal. Last week’s resolution “memorialized” that action, said Baudo. He added that he’s aware that some money and insurance would be included should Mendez leave the authority but said he couldn’t immediately confirm how much.
Baudo said discussions have been under way with Mendez since he was notified of the commissioners’ actions and that those negotiations remain a confidential personnel matter.
“I don’t think anyone really knows where this is going until it gets there,” Baudo added.
At least one source indicated that Mendez’s tenure will, in fact, come to an end this year but the question is whether he will stay in his post for six more months until he passes a state retirement threshold.
Agreeing to keep Mendez on through his 30-year anniversary date, according to the source, was being leveraged against his agreeing to forego the year’s salary due to him and lifetime health insurance.
“It would save $75,000 to $80,000 for rate payers and the lifetime costs of his health insurance,” a source told The Buffalo News, adding that commissioners do intend to replace Mendez at some point in 2013. “I think there’s a sense that 17 years is long enough.”
Before taking over at the Water Authority, Mendez served as Erie County’s commissioner of senior services under former County Executive Dennis T. Gorski. Mendez was also once Gorski’s campaign treasurer and a frequent contributor to it.
Earl L. Jann Jr., vice chairman of the Water Authority’s board of commissioners, who also confirmed the commissioners’ decision not to renew Mendez’s contract, explained that the consensus for that decision was that commissioners were uncomfortable with contracts for its managers in general.
“We don’t believe any management in the Water Authority should have an individual contract,” said Jann. “We’re looking out for the rate payers.”
The authority’s executive director’s post only came with a contract 11 years ago following long-harbored anxiety that operations at the patronage-rich authority were often influenced by politics. Despite the politics that often overshadow the authority, Mendez has held on to his post through four administrations.
Jann, when questioned about how commissioners would handle Mendez’s status in upcoming weeks, refused to provide further details.
“Because it’s a personnel matter, it’s not settled yet,” he said, “and, I can’t comment on it any further.”
Mendez has retained legal counsel and is being represented by Magavern Magavern Grimm LLP.
Mendez, as of late Friday, had yet to give the authority a decision on leaving, which could set the authority’s next meeting on March 26 up as a pivotal one.
Meanwhile, there will be a change-over next month on the board of commissioners itself. Commissioner John F. O’Donnell was not reappointed by the Democrat-controlled Erie County Legislature, which instead opted to tap local lawyer Chris O’Brien for the three-year term.