Miller-Williams Forcing County Leg Workers to Electioneer?

23 Sep

I’ve deliberately been ignoring the comings and goings of the ridiculous, court-governed county legislature race because, really, it’s something that just shouldn’t be.  We don’t need it, and we don’t need them – not to do its largely ministerial functions.

But this comment made in reply to this Artvoice piece stood out:

Many Erie County Legislature’s Democratic staffers are complaing that Chairwoman Miller-Williams is forcing them to canvas the 3rd Legislative District for the Independence Party Line.They are complaining because they are being made to work for Chris Collins and the other Republican Legislators who received the Independence Party’s endorsement and against endorsed Democrats. Miller-Williams was also the only Democrat endorsed by them. These workers are caught in the middle because they are being told that they will be fired if they did not do this political work. Isn’t this illegal under New York State election laws?

Yes, it’s illegal.  If it isn’t, it should be. If it isn’t, it’s palpably unethical.

Barbara Miller-Williams has proven herself to be a loyal Collins Republican, and as with most Byron Brown allies, she blurs the line between government and campaigning into illegality that sometimes does – and sometimes doesn’t – get exposed, but is seldom, if ever, prosecuted. Ask Tanya Perrin-Johnson.  I frankly don’t know why Ms. Miller-Williams doesn’t just switch to the party with which she is most closely aligned.

I don’t know why she continues to pretend to be a Democrat, but that’s her business. In the long term, would be great for the community if we could restructure government into something more streamlined and effective. In the short term, as with Antoine Thompson, it would be good to be rid of bad political actors like Ms. Miller-Williams.

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28 Responses to “Miller-Williams Forcing County Leg Workers to Electioneer?”

  1. Charles September 23, 2011 at 7:55 am #

    It is not illegal do ask certain political exempt/confidential appointees to do political work and/or to dismiss them for failing to support the political interests of their patron. However, the political work cannot be accomplished when one is otherwise supposed to be working. It is not illegal to ask, outside the public workplace and work hours, any other workers to help, on their own time, but it is illegal to sanction, or threaten to sanction, those employees who do not cooperate. The Hatch Act may preclude certain employees, whether exempt/confidential or not, from partisan political activities if their positions are funded by the Feds.

    So who are these employees? What do they do?  More facts are needed lest you get accused of simply repeating unsubstantiated rumors or waving a warning flag where none is needed.  If these staffers depend on the politics of Miller-Williams for their livelihood, then they should either get on board with her or get off the payroll. Sounds to me as they may be complaining simply to play both sides of the aisle, hoping to survive no matter what the outcome of the election. 

  2. wolfpack September 23, 2011 at 8:18 am #

    Mostly Ministerial Legislature. Yes it is. This is especially true for Buffalo neighborhoods where county money for construction comes from teh City. The social services are important for the poor of Buffalo, but those services are mandated by feds and NYS, not the legislators.
    As for Williams, she is just doing for who does for her. The tactics are dispicable, but not uncommon. Those without civil service protection have no choice, and many are qualified folks who should only have to do their job.

  3. buffaloobserver September 23, 2011 at 9:05 am #

    Looks like the morally corrupt GRASSROOTS political organization is at it again.

  4. RaChaCha September 23, 2011 at 10:04 am #

    Aside from the legalities or illegalities (and I had some exposure to this system when I worked for the president of the Monroe County legislature), this gives yet another example of how “independent” the Independence Party is. What began as a “pox on both your houses” revulsion for the two-party system has — in NY and especially in WNY — through electoral fusion corrupted into a transactional tool for abetting and perpetuating the very worst practices and products of two-party politics. What started as a Smeagol has become a twisted, corrupt Gollum.

    One can only hope that those who may still be registered “I” or vote on the “I” line get disabused of the notion that they are in any way a “cure” for the system — quite the contrary.

  5. Kevin J. September 23, 2011 at 10:17 am #

    Two years ago, when BMW had the Democratic and other lines and had no opposition, she forced us staffers to petition for several days the last week of petition collecting so she would also be on the Independence line. This was while there were several races that were contested and could have used some help.

  6. Starbuck September 23, 2011 at 3:18 pm #

    How would the D staffers in question be at risk of firing if the D majority minus BWM is still a majority? Aren’t there 9 D’s? That’s 8 not counting BMW. How could anybody be fired who an 8-7 vote doesn’t want fired?

    As long as this isn’t truly illegal, it’s difficult to have sympathy if people are fired for entirely political reasons after they were hired entirely for same. I’d say it too if it was hires of Betty Jean Grant or Maria Whyte.

    Laws should be followed of course, but how is it “palpably unethical” to demand 100% political obedience from people who hold a job that’s a 100% politically motivated appointment? That isn’t a rhetorical question. If it’s unethical, then I’m really ignorant about what those jobs are. If they’re for the general non-partisan good of the county, why aren’t they under the Civil Service system?

    I agree the county government level should be abolished, including the legislature.

  7. RaChaCha September 23, 2011 at 5:58 pm #

    @Starbuck For good or for ill, the president of the legislature has ultimate control over the legislature staff jobs. BMW was elected president, and has never been unelected. If you’re a staffer being fired there’s not a vote — you may just get a tap on the shoulder and be told to pack your personal belongings and go immediately, as happened to some of the staffers who were terminated immediately after the coup — on her orders, I understand. The voters will have the opportunity to give her a tap on the shoulder in just over a month.

    I had it better: when I was on the staff of the president of the Monroe County legislature, and we lost the majority, the president-elect of the opposite party sent us letters thanking us for our service, but telling us our services would no longer be required after January 1. It gave us time to seek alternate employment.

    The legislature is not run on a non-partisan system, so staff do not fall under Civil Service for either hiring or firing — or anything in between.

  8. Charles September 23, 2011 at 6:05 pm #

    @5 – Exactly what do you by “forced?”  And exactly how did you get your position and what do you do? And what do “staffers” do anyway?  And why do staffers have to do it?  How many staffers do the tax payers support? The last I looked the County Executive is the chief administrative officer for the county and there are plenty of departments and staffers within those departments to do whatever it is a constituent would need to be done.  

    Seems to me that the Erie County Legislature is has lost its way as a legislature. Why does each citizen legislator need a staff anyway?  Why not, at least, a central staff to do whatever legislative research is needed to investigate and research legislative issues(OK I’d compromise and allow one staffer for the majority and one staffer for the minority as well as a staffer for the Chair).  

  9. Betty Jean Grant. September 23, 2011 at 9:45 pm #

    @ Starbucks. You wanted to know how Chairwoman Miller-williams can fire the legislature’s central staff when Democrats controls the majority and the chairwoman is only one of nine Democrats who are in the majority? In the legislature, the chair of the legislature has total hiring and firing power over all staffers, Democrats and Republicans. However in 2010, Ms. Miller-Williams and the Republicans, with two rogue Democrats, passed a resolution that allowed the Minority leader, John Mills to have sole authority to hire and fire the Republican staffers but that same group of nine, Kennedy, Bove, Miller-Williams and the 6 Republicans voted to deny the Democratic Majority Leader, Maria Whyte, to exercise that same power and authority. Chairwoman Miller-Williams kept that authority, herself. The first thing she did was fire Kevin J, Jeremy Rosen and other longtime Democratic staffers. Unfortunately, the Democratic staffers who are there now will probably not complain to me or any other legislator because they run the risk of being fired before January 1, 2012 and there is not a thing the Democratic Majority can do for them. The Buffalo Council Council rules are different; Councilmember David Franczyk needs a majority of votes before he can wreak the havoc on the Common Council that Miller-Williams has fostered on the legislature’s staff.

  10. Kevin J. September 24, 2011 at 1:49 am #

    @8 I and other staffers were told that if we did not collect petitions for BMW, that if/when she became chair, as it was assumed she’d do, we would probably be terminated. Obviously, for several of us, that did not matter.

    Specifically, I was the director of communications for the Democratic majority, for which I was appointed following my 18 1/2 years as a print journalist and freelance writer, as well as college broadcast experience (none of which my replacement had). I was not a committee person at the time of my appointment and had not actively worked on a campaign since serving as a Buffalo State College co-director of sorts for Students for Mondale Ferraro (you can see what a bang-up job we did). 

    I wish I had the specific numbers with me, but the central staff, on which I worked, was cut by more than 60 percent when the red-green budget fiasco occurred. As things went, the then-chief of staff said to me, “I don’t know what to do with you, Kevin. You’re a merit hiring; we don’t get many of those.”

    The day I was fired, I was taken aside at the end of a more than 10-hour work day, given my letter of dismissal signed by BMW, and given about 5 minutes to clear out my office, which I have the foresight to start doing a few weeks before than and only had a small box and my knapsack left to take. Oh, and this was after I notified the media about and helped arrange the press conference at which the new chair, BMW, announced the personnel changes.

    Staffers performed various tasks, from clerking committees to researching and writing legislation, some more than others, some better than others. My almost 6 years at the Legislature were my first and so far only government job.

  11. Peter Hilton September 24, 2011 at 6:17 am #

    Were these jobs posted? I have the quaklifications too. Where do I apply?

  12. RaChaCha September 24, 2011 at 7:45 am #

    @Betty Jean Grant The Monroe County Legislature has the system of majority and minority leaders controlling the majority and minority staffs, respectively. The president (as the chair is called in Monroe County) controls only the president’s office staff. It’s a more “rational” system, dangling less “coup” temptation in front of those with Machiavellian bent (and backing). I put “rational” in quotes, as it also led (at that time I was there, at least) to the somewhat humorous situation of the president trying to hide the real size of his staff from both the county executive and the majority leader — so our offices were hidden away in various back rooms, and we were encouraged not to talk with folks in elevators, etc. Humorous, that is, except in the sense that it’s all funded with taxpayer dollars.

    @KevinJ Interesting — I was also as “merit hire” to borrow your term. Like you, when I was hired I hadn’t had anything to do with politics since college — I wasn’t even registered in the same party as the legislature president. An interesting, to say the least, first lesson in government and politics.

  13. Day of Reckoning September 24, 2011 at 11:54 am #

    @ALL – At any time a majority of legislators can take hiring/firing powers away from Miller-Williams and minority leader, see Erie County Legislature Rules of Order…

    5.10 AMENDMENT OF RULES:
    These rules shall not be rescinded, altered, or amended, nor shall any additional rule be
    added, except by a majority vote of the total members of the Legislature, and only after at least
    one day’s notice in writing, filed with the Clerk of the Legislature.

    SECTION 6.00: EFFECTIVE DATE
    6.01 EFFECTIVE DATE:
    These rules shall be effective immediately upon adoption by a majority vote of
    the total membership of the Legislature.

    http://www2.erie.gov/legislature/sites/www2.erie.gov.legislature/files/uploads/pdfs/overview_rules.pdf

  14. Starbuck September 24, 2011 at 5:40 pm #

    @ RaChaCha & Legislator Grant,

    Thank you both for answering my question.

    I realize you’ve both been involved in this and I haven’t – but I’m still confused about part of your answer.

    If the two rogue Democrats other than BMW – Bove and Whalen, I believe – are no longer rogue, then why can’t a majority of eight (excluding BMW and the 6 R’s) simply undo that rule described in Legislator Grant’s comment about who controls D staff hiring?

    If a leg majority of nine put the rule in place to give the power to BMW instead of Maria Whyte, then why can’t a less-rogue majority of eight change it back right now if they wanted to? 8 is bigger than 7, so what’s the issue now?

    On my other point, I can’t tell if anyone was trying to explain what makes it palpably unethical for a patron to demand total political obedience from political patronage hires. I’m not implying that patronage hires never have merit or never do important work. But when there’s a chance to hire loyalists or fire non-loyalists or less-loyalists, isn’t it usual for all parties and all factions to go ahead and do it? Although it’s unfortunate when anyone becomes unemployed, the replacements very well might be changing from unemployed to employed.

  15. RaChaCha September 24, 2011 at 7:29 pm #

    @Starbuck I don’t know the answer, but I suspect no one wants to crack open that can of worms in the midst of re-election season.

  16. Betty Jean Grant. September 24, 2011 at 9:38 pm #

    @ Starbuck. Oops! I forgot that the two rogue Democrats have returned to the fold. We do not meet again in legislative session until October 6th. I will lobby the majority Democrats to see if they will support me putting forth a rfesolution of some kind to protect the hardworking and trying-to-be, loyal staff.. Thanks again, Starbuck.

  17. Betty Jean Grant. September 24, 2011 at 9:39 pm #

    Ooops, again. I meant to say Resolution.

  18. Betty Jean Grant. September 24, 2011 at 9:49 pm #

    @ Starbuck. To answer the second part of your question: The Chair of the legislature, in prior years, controlled the hiring with the understanding that those individuals, whether they were Republicans or Democrats, worked for all of the legislators in a particular party. This worked well under Lynn Marinell, George Holt and I am sure, other past Chairs of the Legislature. Miller-Williams, because of the political infighting, sought to hire Democrat staffers that was loyal to and worked, for the most part, for her. When a Democratic staff could threatened to slander me via a text message and was not sanctioned for it because she was the political hire of Grassroots’ Maurice Garner, shows the level of contempt Miller-Williams has for her ‘fellow ‘ Democratic collegeaues.

  19. LeftthelegislaturebecauseofalltheBS September 25, 2011 at 7:48 am #

    Kevin J why don’t you get your facts straight… BMW did not force you to go out and secure signatures for the Independence Party in 2009. Lynn Marinelli did that. BMW went to Lynn and asked for staff help at the very last minute. She had no opposition and Lynn should have simply told Barbara “no”. Instead, she made you and others run around the east side like fools for three nights to find 50 people who would actually sign the petition. I hope BMW at least bought the staff lunch.

    As for you, please don’t snow everyone on this board about your sterling credentials and your “merit” hiring. Did you, and I think your wife, not run for committeeman against one of the mayors people? Did the Hoyt organization not pull a lot of strings to land you a job at the YWCA? How did that work out? Are you not a regular at most of the fund raisers having anything to do with the Niagara democrats? I suppose that’s only because the clams they serve are so delicious?

    What happened to you (and others) at the EC Leg totally sucked. And a day spent with crazy Barbara is no picnic. But PLEASE don’t snow everyone that you are so above the fray with your merit hiring nonsense. You are a Hoyter and a political hack just like the rest of them.

  20. LeftthelegislaturebecauseofalltheBS September 25, 2011 at 8:04 am #

    Oh and one more thing… Alan you should have been around in the days when Chuck Swanick was the chair, that’s when I was there. During election season you pretty much had no life. Even Tanya Perin Johnson couldn’t hold a candle to what went on. Staffers were expected to “volunteer” several nights a week, AND bring family members and kids to make phone calls and pass out leaflets. We were extorted for thousands of dollars in fund raising tickets and had to send big checks to Lenny Lenihan to boot. I still got my contacts at the EC Legislature staff at County Hall, and from what I am told, BMW and her chief of staff don’t even impose a fraction of the intimidation and terror that Swanick did in his day. So give BMW at least a bit of credit for that.

  21. Kevin J. September 25, 2011 at 11:57 am #

    Sorry, chicken shit anonymous Left…, I have my facts straight. You can believe what you want. And if you claim to have your facts straight, you’re doing a bang up job, seeing I petitioned for BMW in the Allentown/West Side portion of her district. 

    Let’s see; I first ran for committee several months after I was hired by the legislature, and yes, my wife Val was already a committee person; she was a member of the Good Neighbor Democrats before we started dating, but good try. My first campaign, with my wife, was against two people, neither incumbents, who I believe were associates of the Brown faction. I never met either and can’t even remember their names now. I first met Sam Hoyt in a political science class in college, so I guess I was so sneaky and clever that it took me 25-30 years, according to your accusations, to use my connections.

    The then-chief of staff used the term “merit hiring,” so I guess you also are maligning the veracity of another person of whom you couldn’t know if they said something or not.

    Oh, and classy move to mention a job I held for a not-for-profit that I have not and will not discuss any particulars of online. Strings pulled? I hope I can reach my knees to slap them in laughter.

    I openly and proudly support progressive politicians like Sam Hoyt, Maria Whyte, David Rivera, Sean Ryan and others in the Niagara district, and I never said anything about being “above the fray,” if you mean politically active. My facts were and are accurate; I live and own a house here on the West Side, and live my ideals, not allegedly selling them for a job as you seem to suggest.

  22. val September 25, 2011 at 4:38 pm #

    @LeftthelegislaturebecauseofalltheBS, nice of you to pile on my husband (Kevin J.) without mentioning your own name. Classy.Just to get your ‘facts straight’, Kevin was not involved as a committeeman until I asked him to run with me in September 2004.I was already a committee person, and asked him to run with me, as there are some things I need assistance with. This was 7 months after he started at the leg. Before he started there, he would not attend any political functions with me, as he was a journalist and did not think it was ethical.

  23. Chuck Renshaw September 26, 2011 at 10:20 am #

    There is a place in social media blogs like this one for anonymous posts, that is as long as people respect one another, don’t use slander, bullying or intimidation. I don’t think the post by “Left” was insulting at all, or classless for that matter. Perhaps “Left” wanted to point something out to “Kevin J” that a lot of people are tired of hearing (merit hire vs. patronage hire argument), and maybe “Left” still wants to be friends with “Kevin J” even with his post. Maybe “Left” doesn’t want to be confronted for his comments, just felt it had to be mentioned. I have to admit I wanted to post something like that, but did not. If you read “Kevin J”‘s previous posts here since the day he was fired by BMW, you get the take that people who are patronage hires are somehow below him in stature, kind of lowlifes. So just because he put his name on there, it’s somehow ok to demean his former colleagues? I thought “Kevin J” was green-lighted into the position through his mother-in-law, Janice Dunn, a prominent member of the Amherst Democratic Committee, and Dennis Ward, who both endorsed “Kevin J” to Bill Benfanti, the chief of staff at the legislature at the time, who surely saw in “Kevin J” an outstanding background for the position. Does this make it patronage lite?

    • Alan Bedenko September 26, 2011 at 5:07 pm #

      Chuck, why are you motherfucking Kevin Hosey from an erie.gov IP?

  24. Kevin J. September 26, 2011 at 10:59 am #

    Well, “Chuck Renshaw,” (gee, quotation marks are fun)  my name is Kevin J. Hosey, as I and Buffalo Pundit have previously mentioned.

    I guess I find anonymous remarks and disparaging comments insulting and classless; as a journalist, blogger, freelance writer and commenter, I have always identified myself and always will. Why should I find any honor or class in someone who “doesn’t want to be confronted for his remarks?”

    I was a management/confidential employee, so in other words I was a patronage hiring or whatever you want to call it. There were, always have been and always will be good, bad and mediocre patronage hirings; I explained what I was told were the reasons why I was hired, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Dennis Ward had good words to say for me, but I have never asked about it and no one told me he did.

    Wow, nice attempt to put words in my mouth by implying, at the very least, that I have contempt for all patronage hirings and former colleagues without a lick of proof. I have contempt for certain patronage hirings and former colleagues and those who hired them, and respect for other patronage hirings and colleagues, but dealing with that complicating fact would apparently be too difficult and nuanced. And I’ll bet my mother-in-law would be surprised, if not shocked, that she “green-lighted” my hiring, as if she had or has any such power. Anyone who recommended me for this or any position earns my eternal gratitude and makes me want to work that much harder to justify their confidence. And cripe, try spelling her last name correct.

    So, is “Left…” a male, “Chuck Renshaw?” I don’t know who this person is or their gender, so I definitely don’t know if he or she is a friend, acquaintance, former coworker or what else. If people had or have any problem with my work ethic, performance or qualifications when I worked at the Erie County Legislature, feel free to state them here. With attribution would sure be nice.

  25. Joe Genco September 26, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

    Way to stick up for yourself, Kevin. I hope there is some civil service job in your future, because the entire patronage system is distasteful to me and “merit hire” or not you seem better than that. I was never politically active during the 22 years or so I worked as a journalist. Then I signed on as a committeeman in Clarence. I walked away two years ago when I realized nearly everyone involved either owed someone, worked for someone or wanted a job. The whole pissing contest of he-said-she-said underscores how filthy it is to be in the fray. I still disagree with your politics, but rise above it. And one more thing — thanks for having the stones to sign your name,

  26. Chuck Renshaw September 26, 2011 at 1:22 pm #

    Let’s not condemn the patronage system just because you had no luck in it. Some of these people in these jobs could easily have become quite successful in the private sector had they not wanted to devote their lives to helping people, yes via government in “management confidential” employ. Sometimes leaders take people out of the private sector to become patronage hires, which happened to me. Just because some don’t do so well, doesn’t justify continuing to say people in jobs through patronage hiring are somehow less worthy of respect. And yes, Kevin J. Hosey, you implied just that countless times on here – just go back and read your posts. I have seen numerous people excel as patronage hires. Helping their fellow residents makes them shine; people with Mayor Brown, Dem Chair Lenihan, Steve Pigeon, Sam Hoyt, BMW, Chris Collins, and on and on!!! Just think, every Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner, Ambassador, Cabinet Secretary, Lt. Governor and so on are all patronage hires. Some of you twist the title to make it sound lowly. Heck, Kathy Hochul and Brian Higgins were patronage hires at some point in their career; no doubt Hochul and Higgins do a lot of good for WNY. Hillary Clinton is a patronage hire. Colon Powell was one, too. It’s been around since dirt, remember renowned artists Chrétien de Troyes, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo? They were patronage hires, too. How’d it work out for them?

  27. Kevin J. September 26, 2011 at 4:19 pm #

    Oh, please, Chuck Renshaw; just because you are wrongly interpreting or misunderstanding what I wrote and are apparently practicing mind reading, doesn’t mean that is what I wrote or meant.

    As you can see from I actually wrote above, I do believe there are good, bad and mediocre patronage appointments. You don’t have to look for implications, I directly state that. 

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