Legislature Selects Jack O’Donnell as Erie County Water Commissioner

27 May

It is emblematic of a horrifically broken political system that an hours’ worth of political fighting and hatred stems from giving a do-nothing Erie County Water Authority patronage position paying about $20k as payback to political figures. John Elmore may be a phenomenal lawyer, but has no experience running – or qualifications to run – a water authority. Jack O’Donnell may be the best political consultant in the free world, but has no experience running – or qualifications to run -a water authority.

So, the Republicans, Lynne Dixon (IP) and “reform coalition” Democrats (Kennedy, Bove, Miller-Williams) promoted the name of O’Donnell, a Steve Pigeon associate, for the ECWA position at issue. John Elmore had been the choice of Grassroots, which is somewhat allied with Pigeon at this time. (The Democratic legislators who remain loyal to the county committee run by Len Lenihan had supported Frank Swiatek).

(Yes, in Erie County the Democrats have now split into three separate and distinct cliques. That’s a recipe for disaster not just for the party, but for the region as a whole.)

So, when the Republicans cut a deal with the three rogue Democrats to promote Jack O’Donnell to the water authority, the ECDC Democrats played a shrewd hand – nominating attorney John Elmore, the Grassroots candidate, at the last minute – after it was clear that Miller-Williams had jettisoned him to make a deal with Pigeon’s folks to ensure Independence Party endorsements for everybody in important races (Collins wins, Kennedy wins).

As Lynn Marinelli noted, not for nothing the County Executive’s chief of staff attended this particular legislative session. Deals had been made. Deals were being executed today. Political expediency, as usual in WNY, vanquished merit.

Betty Jean Grant entered Elmore’s name into consideration, and when Miller-Williams indicated that she would be supporting O’Donnell, Grant called Miller-Williams a “hypocrite” and indicated that the chairwoman was either lying before, (when she expressed support for Elmore in the paper), or was lying now.

With the clever outmaneuvering of Miller-Williams, I can’t think of a WNY politician being so quickly out-witted, or looking more foolish in recent memory. In the video below, Grant goes after Miller-Williams like I’ve seldom seen anyone go after a local politician before in an open forum.

Given the sudden … confusion … Maria Whyte recommended the matter be returned to committee to suss out who was for Elmore and who was for O’Donnell. This was defeated. The vote was taken, and the Republican minority voted for purely political reasons to support a Democratic associate of Steve Pigeon.

This is fantastic political theater.

This is depressing to anyone who cares about good government and smart policy.

The fun starts at 19:11

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22 Responses to “Legislature Selects Jack O’Donnell as Erie County Water Commissioner”

  1. buffaloobserver May 28, 2010 at 7:44 am #

    Jesus, Williams-Miller makes Antoine Thompson look smart. The O’Donnell family continues to feed at the public trough. Pigeon wins and as usual, the taxpayers lose.

  2. samroberts May 28, 2010 at 9:56 am #

    It’s nice to see Collins helping the Dems maintain control of the Senate.

  3. Chris Smith May 28, 2010 at 10:31 am #

    I was particularly amused by Kevin Hardwick essentially bringing a Doctor’s note and trying to beg his way out of the tough decision.

    • Paws May 29, 2010 at 12:16 pm #

      I wonder if the note said “Please excuse Mr. Hardwick from standing up against Chris Collins, he traded his spine to get elected.”

  4. Ward May 28, 2010 at 10:46 am #

    To the extent that competency matters (all right, youse can stop laughing any time) it is worhty of note that, when Ch. 2 asked candidates questions on the run about the Water Authority and the work it does, O’Donnell was the only one who didn’t have his head up his ass–who actually knew the volume of water treated and distributed, and something about how the process works.

    I know, Alan, that’s surely not why he was selected. But sometimes you get a bit lucky.

    • Chris Smith May 28, 2010 at 10:57 am #

      The point isn’t that O’Donnell took 10 minutes prior to the hearing to review the ECWA website, it’s a bigger issue that O’Donnell and Responsible New York are currently under investigation for funneling/bundling/coordinating millions of dollars of campaign money on behalf of Steve Pigeon.  So, I guess it’s great that an alleged election fraudster did some research on the operational aspects of the ECWA.  Bully for us!

      * Edited comment to correct allegation that O’Donnell was separately under investigation, he is under the investigation umbrella of Responsible New York, not as an independent actor. I should have specified that in the original statement – Chris Smith

      • Ward May 28, 2010 at 11:41 am #

        He did more research than did Hormoz Mansouri, who, when asked by Mr. Boose a rudimentary question about the ECWA, gave a pretty good imitation of Obama after a teleprompter outage, or Ralph Kramden caught red-handed by Alice.

      • Starbuck May 28, 2010 at 5:22 pm #

        If you’re going to criticize Hardwick for supporting O’Donnell, shouldn’t you also say which finalist you would’ve voted for instead? It’s easy to use the Jerry Sullivan method of saying “anyone but” as a way of ducking negatives of any specific alternative.

      • Christopher Smith May 28, 2010 at 5:47 pm #

        I didn’t criticize anyone for supporting O’Donnell. The whole process is desperately transactional and not about governing. It’s a sham of a system. I will say that if I were a sitting legislator, I would have supported Swiatek, as our information from both Republicans and Democrats affiliated with the ECWA state that he was a competent manager who was able to effectively lead a large organization.

        The better answer is listed in another of your comments, that the commissioner should be appointed by the County Executive and confirmed by the legislature. Does the appointee need to have specific experience running water authorities? Not really, but they should have experience leading large organizations and be free from any any investigation or allegations of fraud…at a minimum.

  5. George Costanza May 28, 2010 at 12:27 pm #

    That’s Hormouz who is also a major Pigeon ally and funder (and who has given a lot of money to Collins).

  6. barney May 28, 2010 at 12:42 pm #

    Great job getting this on video, if more people paid attention to the actual proceedings of our governing bodies there would be different results come election day.
    I thought Hardwick and Dixon where supposed to be above politics and would clean things up? How is that going for them now?

  7. Kevin Hardwick May 28, 2010 at 1:28 pm #

    That would be amusing, Chris, if the doctor’s note said I had a conflict of interest and could not vote. But the note indicated just the opposite. I sought the opinion and made it public so there would be no confusion after the vote. This was an obvious miscalculation on my part. Sorry for the confusion.

    • Starbuck May 28, 2010 at 5:26 pm #

      At some point will you introduce serious legislation to reform how the Water Authority is governed?

      Why not just make it a regular county dept for which the CE appoints a commish (perhaps with professional qualifications required), subject to legislature confirmation? At least that could provide a little more focused accountability from voters if a CE makes a bad choice.

      • Kevin Hardwick May 28, 2010 at 8:46 pm #

        As I recall, Kathy Konst pushed something like that. I had mixed feelings about it at the time.

    • Paws May 29, 2010 at 12:11 pm #

      Kevin, on which “Youtube Friday” did you teach the students about appointing political hacks making backroom promises?

  8. Fat Tony May 28, 2010 at 2:10 pm #

    So we wring our hands because one hack (O’Donnell) got the appointment over another hack (Swiatek). If these were the choices: Elmore, Mansouri, Swiatek, O’Donnell then how can anyone say the Legislature made a poor decision? If the Majority Dems wanted to actually take the high road and not look the hypocrites they are, why not put up someone outside of politics who is actually qualified?

    But I get it, it’s only political b.s. when the other side does it.

  9. JLD May 28, 2010 at 8:07 pm #

    AS ONE LOCAL POL ONCE TOLD ME…You have to “go along , to get along”…and so the beat goes on for Dixon and Hardwick!….once elected..changes everything…only the best liars win elections…truly an art!

  10. Betty Jean Grant May 28, 2010 at 10:27 pm #

    John Elmore lost votes because a certain legislator, who promised to vote for John Elmore, was fasely told by Barbara Miller-Williams that Elmore had withdrawn from the selection process. In other words, I still stand by my comments: Miller-Williams is a liar -and worse, a hypocrite. She stole the nomination from Elmore purely by deceit. I guess Domagalski needed the Independence Line bad enough for the Republicans and the renegade democrats to steal the water authority appointment.

  11. Starbuck May 29, 2010 at 10:17 pm #

    “As I recall, Kathy Konst pushed something like that. I had mixed feelings about it at the time.”

    Dr. Hardwick, What do you consider negatives of that kind of approach compared to the current patronage-soaked system? It sounds to me like a more accountable, streamlined way to do it. Or is there an alternative reform you’d prefer? Why not at least try to reform it to be have more professional and less political management?

    It’s clear all factions consider the ECWA a political playground to fight over. Betty Jean Grant’s comment above sounds every bit as ridiculous as the other sides in this dispute, and it’s like this every time.

    • Kevin Hardwick May 30, 2010 at 7:22 am #

      I remember wondering at the time whether the Konst proposal would solve the patronage pit problem or just transfer it to the the executive branch of county government. Of course, this was right after the Red/Green Budget Fiasco and the media were focusing almost daily on the CE’s “Friends & Family” program. Perhaps your right, Buck, and it deserves another look.

      • Starbuck May 31, 2010 at 6:54 pm #

        Perhaps your right, Buck, and it deserves another look.

        Very good.

        One possibility is as I mentioned: a hands-on professional administrator appointed by the CE and confirmed by the leg, as done for the Health Dept for example (even if the WA is different in other ways).

        Another is like in Niagara Co where the water board consists of elected town supervisors who appoint an administrator. That could work here, perhaps with weighted voting proportional to the gallons sold in each town (and in any city, if any use it).

        Either of the above would be an improvement by eliminating a board of unelected commissioners who have very little accountability except to party chairs and Pigeon-like operatives.

        after the Red/Green Budget Fiasco and the media were focusing almost daily on the CE’s “Friends & Family” program

        And still, Giambra’s incompetence and overdoing of patronage did catch up with him. If all of his messes were through separate indirect “authorities”, it might not have as much or as fast.

        Politics won’t be fully removed, but the ECWA is set up to be very indirect from voter accountability – the leg (most who have very safe seats) chooses commissioners at scattered intervals, who then appoint management and control a budget. Back during the October storm, big problems became known about the ECWA not being prepared with backup generators. Nobody was accountable. Who knows what else happens there behind the scenes.

        Changes might need a charter amendment or state approval. Why not try?

  12. Peter A Reese May 31, 2010 at 1:40 pm #

    I really don’t see how anyone can be debating competence in this choice. Is there anyone who believes that Swiatek did anything other than hand out patronage to help prop up Lenihan’s control of the ECDC? I don’t know if O’Donnell will do anything of value as commissioner, but there was no one in the room who thought promoting good management of the Water Authority was even a consideration in this vote. This vote was pure politics and Lenihan got outmaneuvered again.

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