Erie County Legislature Chairman John J. Mills has asked the county comptroller’s office to examine all of the Legislature’s purchases and interdepartmental expenses between Jan. 1, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2013, a period when Democrats controlled the Legislature.
Mills, a Republican from Orchard Park, insists that his request – which the comptroller formally agreed to take up Thursday – is not a political maneuver aimed at raking Democrats over the coals for their fiscal management of the Legislature during the last half-decade.
“I don’t think the comptroller, I don’t think he’s going to do that,” Mills said, following a regular session of the Legislature.
“I think he’s just going to look and see what the expenses were and give us a report on that, and then share with both sides. He’s not going to hold anything back, but he’s the independent auditor. That’s his job,” Mills added.
But Legislator Betty Jean Grant, a Buffalo Democrat who preceded Mills as chairman, questioned the motivation in having a review done by Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw, who, like the new Legislature majority, is also a Republican. She also questioned why no members of the Democratic minority were invited to participate in a standard entrance conference between the majority caucus and the comptroller’s staff Thursday.
“Is this a witch hunt or is this a way that they can actually find out how to make the Legislature run more efficiently?” Grant asked, upon learning that the entrance conference had already been conducted earlier in the day and without participation from the minority party lawmakers.
Grant was absent from Thursday’s 9:30 a.m. Legislative caucus, but just prior to the lawmakers’ 2 p.m. regular session, she submitted a letter addressed to Mills requesting that members of the minority be represented at the entrance conference, which had been held at 10 a.m.
“I didn’t go because I didn’t know about it. Had I known about it, I would have been there,” Grant said.
Meanwhile, Majority Leader Joseph C. Lorigo, a Conservative from West Seneca, noted that it was the prerogative of the Legislature chairman and the majority caucus to determine who would be present at the conference.
“It’s our house of government, so we control who’s invited into those conferences,” Lorigo said.
“Now that we’ve taken control, we’re looking to lead by example and show that there are ways to spend money more wisely and run the Legislature more efficiently, and we don’t know how it’s been run for the past five years,” Lorigo continued.
“Quite frankly, we were never brought in on any budgetary conversation with regard to the Legislature’s budget when we were in the minority,” he added.
The conclusion of the entrance conference officially kicks off the comptroller’s financial review, said Associate Deputy Comptroller Bryan Fiume.