That old saying, “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” firmly applies to the Erie County Water Authority.
Executive Director Robert Mendez, 55, will be shown the door in six months, and with that exit he retains benefits most in the private sector would envy.
Although the original golden parachute of a $154,000 severance payout has collapsed, Mendez’s deal allows him to reach a pension eligibility milestone.
And he will receive fully paid health insurance for five years and then will contribute 15 percent toward the cost of the premium. While that’s a little better for ratepayers than the previous deal, where he would have received fully paid health insurance for life, it’s still nothing to sniff at. In addition, he is able to use any of his sick time toward the 15 percent.
While it is true that all employees of the Water Authority who leave with 15 years on the job are eligible for lifetime health benefits, it doesn’t negate what seems, in these tight economic times, a pretty cushy deal. Those employees who retired after April 2012 also pay 85 percent of the premiums.
Mendez is a 17-year Water Authority employee who was appointed executive director in 1996 after working for six years as Erie County’s commissioner of senior services under then-County Executive Dennis Gorski.
Mendez will be kept on for six months, commissioners say, as a way to provide a “fluid transition” while one of three Water Authority commissioners is replaced by a new appointee next month. In addition to a decent exit package, compared to the average worker, Mendez also could be paid $75 an hour on a consultant basis if the authority calls on him post-retirement. Nice.
Although Water Authority commissioners essentially failed to give an explanation for replacing Mendez, their utterances of wanting to “go in a different direction in a lot of areas” demand that they do just that, instead of continuing to play politics.
The Water Authority is a well-known patronage stop for many and has been for years. In response to criticism of hires through the “old boys” network, the authority last fall began posting all openings on its website. That’s a good start, but any new rules apparently do not apply until later.
In the midst of all of this “change,” commissioners agreed to hire Timothy D. Gallagher as a part-time associate attorney. Gallagher is an Orchard Park resident with a private legal practice and a town prosecutor for Orchard Park and a former district attorney for Erie County.
He is also the son of Ray Gallagher, former state senator, former chairman of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority and a prominent political figure influential in the Conservative Party.
Son Timothy will work up to 19 hours every two weeks at a rate of $100 an hour. Glad to see the Water Authority is working to take political patronage out of the system.