Tag Archives: Comptroller

The “Audit” that Wasn’t an Audit

2 May

Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw took a break from his busy schedule visiting random cultural sites and eating lunches at various and sundry senior centers, and released an “audit” revealing $70,000 in expenditures over five years that Mr. Mychajliw doesn’t like. The new Republican majority in the legislature commissioned this “audit”, and the best anyone could do was to find about $14,000 per year in allegedly excessive spending each year between  2009 – 2013.

“Audit” gets scarequotes because it wasn’t an audit. Even Mychajliw’s office calls it what it was – a review. It was not subject to any of the requirements or restrictions necessary within an audit environment.

For a $1.1 billion operation, $14,000 per year isn’t that horrible. But don’t tell the Comptroller that.

The manner in which taxpayer dollars were spent is troubling. We are concerned by the blatant misuse of county funds. The lack of oversight on spending leaves us disheartened,” Mychajliw said in a statement announcing the release of the audit

That strong language is out of proportion with the actual findings. The findings showed some pretty mild incidents of  unnecessary and excessive spending, but no “blatant misuse” or some pervasive “lack of oversight”. When does Stefan’s campaign end?

Wasteful? There are a few items that could have been handled differently, but nothing excessive.  Take a look at the major findings.

The 45-page report details nearly $5,000 that the Legislature spent on personal items. These included expenditures for snacks that were provided to outside guests who were honored by legislators at their bimonthly meetings; flowers; a shoe rack and the cost to stock some district offices with toilet paper.

Here’s what Democratic minority chairwoman Betty Jean Grant said about the snacks:

…most the food was purchased for World War II, Korean, Vietnam and the current War Veterans who have served their Country and who are members of the Valor for Valor Committee I created to assist our veterans. The refreshment they consumed after the county hall meetings, were not nearly as expensive as some of the things they lost such as limbs and even the lives for those who did not make it back. Someone needs to be ashamed of this despicable show of narrow-mindedness.

And toilet paper. Toilet paper? Do you remember during the red/green budget fiasco of the last decade, when the county couldn’t afford to stock the bathrooms in the Rath Building with toilet paper, so Charmin donated a truck’s worth?  Setting aside for a moment whether district offices are necessary, if we’re going to have them, are we going to begrudge their bathrooms having county-funded toilet paper? What’s next? Toner? Paper?

The report also notes how the Legislature spent too much on toner for the printers it leased and how it continued to cover the cost of Internet access for one of the Democratic legislator’s district office nine months after it was destroyed by fire.

But better still is how Mychajliw’s release characterizes this:

The Legislature spent almost $5,000 for personal items like flowers, cakes, meals, shoe racks, toilet paper, stamps, potato chips, plastic utensils, tissues, cookies, even soil.

OMG EVEN SOIL!!1!

And if you still don’t think this was a wholly political play, regard this line from the exit conference section of the review:

During the Exit Conference, some concerns were addressed regarding the severity of some of these issues and the verbiage which was used in defining them. Due to this, verbiage in some instances within this report has been changed to more accurately reflect the issues found.

UPDATE: Did you catch this line? 

“I think the most important thing to note is the fact that the Legislature initially wanted us to look at just one year of spending,” Mychajliw said. “When we showed them what we found just over one year, they formally asked us to expand it to five years and go deeper.”

A correspondent notes that this comment is false.This letter from Legislator John Mills, dated February 18 specifically requests a five-year review. The Comptroller’s office’s review entrance letter is dated the same day (efficient!), and notes – ab initiothat the review will be for the 5 year period of Jan 1, 2009 to Dec 31, 2013.  So, the 5 year period was decided on day one, before any data had been compiled, transmitted, and well before any data had been reviewed. Indeed, none of the information was due until February 25th. Nobody ever “formally asked” anyone to “expand it to five years”. There exists no earlier letter asking for a one-year review.

I’ll grant you the internet access thing is, I suppose, “wasteful”, as is the retention of an official photographer – although the photographs are presented to recipients of various awards, and make these people feel appreciated.  But the review itself reveals that Time Warner is refunding the money. There is the matter of a 45-cent stamp for which a staffer was reimbursed three times. I offer that staffer my thoughts and prayers, as he or she works to repay that $0.90 debt to the county. This is petty within the literal meaning of that word, coming from the French petit or small.

We already know that honoring people is most of what the legislature accomplishes.  If you want to talk about wasteful spending, it’s can rationally be argued that having an Erie County Legislature is, itself, fundamentally wasteful; its ministerial, rote “functions” outweigh its discretionary ones.

To give you some perspective, here’s what I wrote about the toilet paper fiasco of ’05.

Charmin wants to donate a truck’s worth of Charmin to the Rath Building. George Holt has already allocated some of his member money to his brother’s son’s girlfriend’s shell company, which knows a guy who can get some toilet paper that fell off a truck. So, they don’t need Charmin.

Thankfully, that sort of intentional and pervasive George Holt/Chuck Swanick style corruption is long gone. So is member money.

This whole thing is a persuasive argument against the continuation of partisan elections for the legislature. If this had been in any way legitimate, it would have been undertaken without the “aha” confrontational tone. None of this stuff is a big, earth-shattering deal, and there is no evidence whatsoever of deliberate waste or wrongdoing. The excessive rhetoric in the review and its accompanying press materials belies the notion that this was an apolitical review of allegedly excessive spending.  It is, instead, a wholly political piece of campaign literature.

And you paid for it.

Accounting is Spooky!

31 Oct

Campaign finance is fun. Let’s look at the accounting for the Republican candidate for comptroller. Specifically, about $2,000 in donations. The following amounts are disclosed as contributions to “Taxpayers for Stefan”: 

     
FRIENDS OF ELISE CUSACK 8/31/2012 $385.11
FRIENDS OF ELISE CUSACK 8/31/2012 $337.58
Friends of Dr. Barry Weinstein 9/25/2012 $100.00
MIKE RANZENHOFER FOR STATE SENATE 10/2/2012 $250.00
HUMISTON FOR ASSEMBLY 10/3/2012 $350.00
COMMITTEE TO REELECT JUDGE HOWE SURROGATE 10/16/2012 $250.00
Friends of Dr. Barry Weinstein 10/17/2012 $150.00
FRIENDS OF RON PILOZZI 9/4/2013 $150.00
 TOTAL:    $1,972.69

Oddly enough, not a single one of these donations turns up in the “other monetary” disclosure section of Mychajliw’s campaign account. 

Cusack’s donations from 2012 show up nowhere in Mychajliw’s reports from that time. (11 day pre-primary, 10 day post-primary). 

Weinstein’s late-2012 contributions show up in his January 2013 report, but not Mychajliw’s January or 10 day27 day post-General reports 

Humiston’s Assembly campaign fund reveals its donation in the January 2013 report, but not in any report of Mychajliw’s. (10 day post-General)

Same with Ranzenhofer’s 2012 money. As for Pilozzi’s 2013 money

In June and early July, there is $198 from the campaign funds of Judge Howe, $250 from Guy Marlette, and $5,500 from ECGOP and the West Seneca town committee

In July 2013, we have a $250.00 contribution from M&T PAC

In August 2013, there is $250 from Ranzenhofer’s campaign, and another $300 from Howe’s

In late August and early September, there is $300 from the Clarence and Boston committees, and $150 from National Fuel Gas PAC

Later in September, we have $250 from John Mills’ campaign, and $100 from David DiPietro’s campaign, and $100 from an Amherst political club

Mid-October brings a contribution of $500 from Guy Marlette’s treasury, and $1000 from the ECGOP

I have omitted some unreported donations (Kevin Hardwick, Tom Wik) because they were under the $100 threshold for reporting itemized donations. However, the amounts shown above are disclosed by their donors, but not disclosed by the recipient, as required by law.  

Gaughan to challenge Mychajliw

13 Jul

Regionalism and government downsizing advocate and attorney Kevin Gaughan will likely replace Lynn Szalkowski, and run as Democratic candidate for Erie County Comptroller against Stefan Mychajliw.

The decision will be made final later this week.

Szalkowski Drops Out, Mychajliw Pitches Fit

12 Jul

Erie County Comptroller candidate Lynn Szalkowski dropped out yesterday, the day petitions were due. Her name appeared on Democratic nominating petitions that have been circulated throughout Erie County for the past several weeks because she was the candidate whom the party had recruited to run. As it turns out, she had second thoughts and effectively dropped out of the race weeks ago. That posed a problem for the party, because the only way to keep the ballot line alive for November would be to keep circulating her petitions and then let a committee replace her when she formally drops out. That’s what’s about to happen in the next week or so.

Just about every news story everywhere has made the point that Ms. Szalkowski has suffered some personal tragedies in recent weeks, and that she may also have some sort of personal health issue. While her Facebook page shows her doing fun things with friends and her kids, that doesn’t necessarily mean she isn’t also tackling some sort of health problem. People live with chronic pain and disease all the time yet are still able to go out and maintain some semblance of a normal life – it doesn’t mean they also have the energy or will to go out and attend every chicken BBQ and every fundraiser and every debate as part of a grueling, months-long campaign for a countywide office.

So, when she dropped out yesterday, her putative opponent, incumbent Stefan Mychajliw, took to Facebook to comment on the situation. Before becoming Comptroller, Mychajliw was the owner of a public relations firm. As a public relations professional, I would likely counsel a candidate to take the high road, and leave the backhanded smacks and insults for surrogates.

In other words, Mychajliw’s Facebook post or whatever other public statement he made should have read something like this:

I am disappointed to learn that Ms. Szalkowski has decided not to accept her party’s nomination to run for Erie County Comptroller on the Democratic line. I am proud of my accomplishments over the last several months, and looked forward to a lively campaign on the issues. I wish Ms. Szalkowski and her family well, and look forward to running a positive campaign against whomever the Democrats select as their candidate.

Because, honestly, Mychajliw shouldn’t necessarily care who runs against him, or what the internal Democratic party machinations and intrigue might be. He is running to win in November, and he’ll take all comers, right?

Well, instead of some sort of gracious send-off, Mychajliw inexplicably spat this venom at the Democratic committee:

I don’t quite understand why this makes Mr. Mychajliw so upset, and why he didn’t so much as wish Ms. Szalkowski well, whatever his feelings are about the legal process that results from a candidate dropping out of a race. The party committee recruited Szalkowski, and it will now have to recruit someone else. It’s really six of one, half-dozen of the other, and Mychajliw’s Facebook excreta seems utterly classless to me.

Maybe Mychajliw’s office could trick a custodian into letting them into the locked basement room in the Rath Building where the Democrats keep all the Comptroller candidates.

Deep Interim Thought

15 Dec

Why don’t any qualified people want the job of interim Erie County Comptroller? Is it the pay, the politics, or something altogether different? This isn’t the kind of job where you just insert some ex-politician or hack as a patronage “thank you”; it requires a genuine and deep understanding of government finance.

Suffice it to say that none of the names you may have been hearing are going anywhere near that job.


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Lather, Fail, Repeat

4 Feb

It’s that time of year again. The time when the county has to borrow money to get capital projects rolling, and the control board demands that it and only it do the borrowing. On this point, the comptroller and county executive are aligned – they don’t want the control board to do the borrowing.

As a matter of fact, last year the control board had egg by the bucketload on its face because when it came time for it to actually accomplish the borrowing it promised to do for cheaper, it couldn’t seal the deal, and the comptroller did it anyway.

In this case, we have $89 million in infrastructure projects waiting to go – a veritable local stimulus opportunity – and the control board is holding up the entire thing for some inexplicable reason – whether it be a fit of pique, to avoid killing the job for it or its staff/vendors, or just to stick it to Collins and Poloncarz.

To top it off, if the control board does the borrowing, it gets to exist for 20 – 30 more happy go-lucky years. Oh, and when it bleats on and on about how much it can save the taxpayers, it conveniently omits the cost of bond insurance.

The control board was instituted, you may recall, to provide “adult supervision” over Erie County finances. If county government was an undisciplined toddler, the state brought together a group of less-disciplined infants to supervise them. In 2007, the control board’s people tried to sabotage the county’s own deal, and were never able to actually prove up their argument that they could save the taxpayers so much as a red cent.

County government may be a dysfunctional anachronism, but the county control board is, and has ever been, a joke.

Unfortunately for us, it’s a joke that costs us $1 million per year and has little to show for itself.

UPDATE: A quote from Comptroller Poloncarz:

“The control board is stopping an $89,000,000 stimulus package from taking place. We could put people to work right away if they would just approve the county’s borrowing package, but they won’t. They are not saving taxpayers money but have cost taxpayers in the long run because of the delay (higher interest costs than we would have paid in the past) and they are letting good paying jobs die. They are being irresponsible just to prove a point that they can.”

Reactions to the Legislature’s Overrides of Collins’ Vetoes

10 Dec

Line by Line.

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Heckuva Job, Control Board

26 Sep

After about 18 months of telling us over and over and over again that they can borrow more cheaply than the county, the control board found itself unable to do a thing.

The control board learned late Thursday that despite its assurances, it would be unable to secure the crucial $75 million loan that would keep county government operating beyond Tuesday.

Just before 5 p. m., control board Executive Director Kenneth J. Vetter turned to County Comptroller Mark C. Poloncarz and asked him to activate a backup deal he had in place.

Poloncarz believes he can borrow the $75 million in a private transaction with Bank of America. He says he can close it by Tuesday, in time to meet Friday’s $12 million payroll.

Erie County’s Fiscal Stability Authority — appointed by Albany’s powers — has a superior credit rating and controls many aspects of Erie County finances.

But Wall Street turmoil sent the board scrambling to borrow money the old-fashioned way, through the county comptroller.

The control board has been angling to borrow on the government’s behalf because it can save taxpayers money on repayment costs, given its top credit rating and the fact that it need not buy insurance against default.

Had the bridge loan – due to be repaid within the year – not gone through, the county would have been left temporarily broke, unable to make next week’s payroll, and there would have been a delay in the distribution of sales tax revenue to the municipalities and schools – $42 million worth.

Thank God my tax dollars go to funding this do-nothing, my-guess-is-better-than-yours control board.