The Intersection of Taxation and Competent Government

20 May

The image above reflects the two top stories this morning on WGRZ.com. More disappointingly, it reflects two epic failures at the hands of the county government. In the first, the Department of Social Services went out to investigate a literal house of horrors, but only conducted interviews with the perpetrators outside the home, believing them to not be allowed inside unless consent was given. That’s not true, and as a result of the lackadaisical “investigation”, the true nature of Laura Cummings’ living conditions was never revealed. Until she had been killed by her mother and brother, that is.

The second story? It has almost become an annual tradition for the state Commission of Correction to remind Sheriff Tim Howard that he is an utter and absolute failure at managing and operating the county jail system.

The Ralph “Bucky” Philips escape led to a months-long manhunt and two dead State Troopers. Incarcerated alleged rapist Rasheed Milton was mistakenly released, and Milton almost immediately raped another innocent woman. Now we have yet another embarrassment – an inmate labeled an escape risk, Brian Collins, escaped from his cell after disabling the lock (no one checked or noticed), grabbed an unattended two-way radio, used a phone to get deputies to open up the door to his block (they never checked his identity), and ultimately made his way onto the roof of the holding center where he pranced around for some time. In all, Mr. Collins was unaccounted-for for several hours.

The state investigated, and the report gives new meaning to the term “scathing”. It lays the blame for Collins’ escape firmly on Sheriff Howard for failing to properly train and manage his staff. Calling the escape the result of “gross negligence and incompetence”, the state commission added that the escape,

was a direct consequence of the failure of the Erie County Sheriff and his senior managers to implement and follow fundamental correctional and custody practices in accordance with New York State rules and regulations

Howard and his patronage hires are doing what they always do when reminded of their incompetence. They deflect and whine. Howard shunts the blame to individual deputies – firing them and reprimanding them, completely missing the point of the report and of basic leadership. Nothing changes policy-wise; just fire the underlings and carry on. Then they whine about “vicious political attacks”.

The problem here is that their whining might be persuasive if this was the first such event. But this is (at minimum) the third. You don’t have three epic escape failures resulting in death and rape and get to chalk it up to politics.

It’s come time for Sheriff Tim Howard to resign. And it’s time for Chris Collins to do the right thing and join the call for him to go. The time to set up citizens’ commissions to oversee that which is already overseen has come and gone. This has become a pattern, and it’s unacceptable and unsustainable.

Because note the two stories above freshly reveal that county government doesn’t merely exist to sleepwalk its way through a day where the chief concern is lower taxes. That’s where the Collins Administration has focused all of its efforts – on the middle class suburbanites who don’t interact much with DSS or the jails. Collins banks on these people not much caring whether the jails are secure or DSS prevents the murder of young girls in rural hellhouses. They worry about their taxes, so Collins makes sure to remind his only constituents that he, too, cares about their taxes. (Note: The Erie County property tax rate is among the lowest in the state. We also pay sales tax, various fees, and school taxes, however).

So it would be phenomenal if the focus in the county administration would shift a few centimeters from being only taxpayer-centric to also including a bit of consistency and competence. Yes, my taxes are too high, but for the time being I’m still paying them. My expectation in doing so is that my tax money will be used intelligently and competently. Six Sigma seems to be in practice almost as useless as CitiStat.

Oftentimes, doing it right is more important than doing it cheaply.

One Response to “The Intersection of Taxation and Competent Government”

  1. Christopher Byrd May 20, 2010 at 11:13 am #

    The Laura Cummings’ story is tragic on so many levels…it makes me wonder how many other cases like this are out there and not being investigated properly.

    I guess we will find out when someone else ends up dead.

    There are other people with blood on their hands besides her mother and brother…

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