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Betty Jean Grant: GOP Staffer Had Prohibited Smartphone

5 May

Remember the little audit that wasn’t? It supposedly uncovered the Democratic legislative majority’s (which was actually a Republican-led coalition between 2010 – 2012, but who’s counting), wasteful spending on snacks and toner by the Democratic legislature over the last five years.

While political in purpose, I suspect that the review’s purpose was to weed out wasteful or improper spending, regardless of party. That’s not, however, how it’s shaken out. While Democrats were criticized for “troubling” and “blatant” waste and lack of oversight, the Republicans escaped criticism.

Minority leader Betty Jean Grant is accusing Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw of covering up improper cell phone use by a former Republican leg staffer and current Mychajliw employee, Bryan Fiume.

Grant specifically charges that Mychajliw’s office is whitewashing Fiume’s misdeeds.

Fiume worked at the legislature as Minority Chief of Staff, having been hired immediately after the January 2010 ‘Coalition’ fired 11 Democratic staff members in the reorganization that year.  Fiume moved over to the legislature from County Executive Chris Collins’ office that year, and Fiume remained as Minority Chief of Staff until late December 2013, when Mychajliw hired him as his Chief-of-Staff.

Democrats charge that Mychajliw’s hyperpartisan review of legislature spending omitted the fact that Fiume has been wasting Erie County money for years, after somehow gaining access to a taxpayer-paid Erie County smart phone, without ever telling anyone.

The legislature’s 2012 policies and procedures are here; the document for 2013 is here. The legislature expressly forbids any taxpayer-funded cellphones or smartphones for staff. Grant has now sent a request under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain Fiume’s cell phone records to find out what, exactly, the county paid for.

Betty Jean Grant FOIL


Below is the Comptroller’s review of “DISS Use and Control of Wireless Devices” (DISS stands for Department of Informational & Support Services) that was clocked into the legislature two weeks before the legislature’s review of expenditures. It received no attention, and no breathless hyperbole from the traveling Comptroller.

Comptroller Review of Wireless Devices in Erie County


The Wireless Devices’ review disclosed (PDF page 14) that Fiume had a County-issued smart phone during the review period – possibly from the time he left Collins’ office until the day he left the legislature.  He was, actually, the only legislative employee – staffer or elected – who had a county-issued phone. If you look at the policies and procedures shown above, they expressly state,

Cellular Telephone – Cellular telephones and other portable communication devices are not budgeted for [2012 and] 2013, and are not reimbursable expenses.

A communication from DISS submitted to the legislature following the Wireless Devices’ review indicated that Fiume surrendered the smart phone in late December 2013.  Grant wants to find out more details about this, because it’s possible that Fiume enjoyed the use of a contraband socialized smartphone for almost four years. In her FOIL letter, Grant writes,

…according to the Wireless Devices’ review, “Chapter X, Section 10, of the Erie County Personnel Policies and Procedures Manual details the official policy regarding the use of wireless telephones,” and specifically lists “key administrative staff” as employees eligible for use of such devices. As the former Chief of Staff for the Minority Caucus at the Legislature, not only did Mr. Fiume have no authority allowing him use of a taxpayer-paid smart phone pursuant to Legislature policy, he also was not in any “key administrative staff” position while employed by the Legislature.

County wireless policy further prohibits, as stated in the Wireless Devices’ review,“the transfer of wireless phones from departments or worksites and/or changes in services ‘without the direct authority of supervision’

Consider that this should have clearly fallen well within the five-year review period requested by Chairman John Mills, and also constitute “wasteful spending”;  such a low-level employee would have absolutely no legitimate public need for such a prohibited device.  Yet Mychajliw chose not to include this in the legislature review?  Why? Why did Fiume not surrender the smart phone when Collins left office?

Grant is also going to try to find out why the legislature had no information whatsoever about this hidden smartphone, which appeared in no contemporaneous budget documents, and in contravention of longstanding leg policy.

This is alarming not because of the amount of money involved – Fiume’s smartphone cost the people around $50 per month. It’s alarming because of the contravention of policy, and how the Comptroller’s office is playing politics with its role as watchdog. Mychajliw excoriated the Democrats for mistakenly overpaying a stamp reimbursement by $0.90, but is ignoring this apparent blatant violation of county rules and regulations by a close friend and aide.

That’s not how good government works.