Three people with political connections are among the latest hires at the Erie County Water Authority, a body long criticized for its patronage hiring.
Timothy Meegan, son of West Seneca Supervisor Sheila Meegan, and Sean O'Neil, a former County Legislature aide, started work as water utility workers during the last two weeks.
The authority last week also appointed attorney Timothy Gallagher as part-time counsel. Gallagher is a member of the Conservative Party's executive committee and the son of Ray Gallagher, a former state senator and former chairman of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.
All three are positions that do not require a civil service test. The three are the latest employees hired at the Water Authority who have connections to local political officials or have worked on political campaigns, despite new hiring policies aimed at widening the pool of applicants beyond political circles.
“Everybody that we hire is qualified for the positions,” said Matthew J. Baudo, secretary to the authority and personnel director. “We do vet out our candidates. We have a screening process, as well, and they're required to perform.”
The three hires are among seven new employees at the Water Authority so far this year. Three others were hired based on results of civil service exams, and a seventh position is pending a civil service classification from the state, which would determine whether an exam is required.
Meegan and O'Neil were chosen out of a pool of 12 people who submitted resumes after two openings for water utility workers were posted on the authority's website under a new policy in which all positions are advertised online, Baudo said. Seven people were interviewed for the laborer jobs, which do not require a civil service test as non-competitive positions.
Both are former county employees who worked most recently as part-time auto bureau cashiers in the County Clerk's Office, according to Erie County payroll records. O'Neil also previously worked as a communications aide to the Legislature's Republican caucus for five months on a temporary basis and has done campaign work for the Erie County Republican Party.
O'Neil was hired for a permanent water utility worker position and started last week with a salary of $43,950. Meegan, who will start at a salary of $41,496, was hired on a temporary basis to fill a position left vacant by an employee on leave, Baudo said.
Gallagher was hired at a rate of $100 an hour to work up to 19 hours every two weeks.
Sheila Meegan, a Democrat, said her son first submitted an application to the Water Authority in 2009.
“He's a grown man. That's an interest of his, a career position he's headed for,” Meegan said. “Right now, he's finishing up his bachelor's. I'm not going to, obviously, stand in the way of any career choices he makes.”
Timothy Meegan is also the grandson of Christopher P. Walsh, a former West Seneca Democratic Party chairman who is a close political ally of former County Democratic Chairman G. Steven Pigeon.
Meegan said she was contacted by County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner a few weeks ago about the fact that her son had submitted a resume to the Water Authority, a conversation Zellner said he did not recall.
“I don't know why she would say that I would try to help her,” said Zellner, who heads the often-fractious party. “In all reality, if I was able to be that influential over there, I certainly wouldn't be helping somebody who's not helping our organization.”
The three other people hired by the Water Authority this year for competitive civil service positions, based on results of recent exams, are Scott Papierz and Nathan Skiba, water treatment plant operator trainees, and Melody Gil, an account clerk. The authority also hired Michael Lee to replace a diesel generator mechanic, and that is the position awaiting classification by the state, Baudo said.