Tag Archives: County Government

Walter vs. Miller-Williams – PolitiFAIL Tourney 2010

24 Mar

Stranger bedfellows there probably haven’t been in county government in quite some time, but here we have two members of the county legislature’s “reform coalition” of eager Republicans and opportunistic Democrats.

Ray Walter is the 6th seed in the county bracket, and was selected to replace Mike Ranzenhofer in the 4th LD upon his election to the state senate. Walter is a somewhat libertarian Republican who is pretty much the perfect legislator for a district that doesn’t really care about or have much use for county government. As a former member of the Charter Revision Commission, he was involved in many of the changes that swept through county government a few years back, but upon ascension to the legislature, he was one of three very lonely Republican legislators who didn’t do much else but complain and sigh. That is, when they weren’t busy mouthing Chris Collins’ words. With the creation of the reform coalition and after the 2009 election, Walter’s clout grew somewhat and while some legislators (un)affectionately call him “Rush”, he’s the guy in the leg who seems wicked annoyed by what everyone else is doing and saying. He’s only been in elected office for a term and a half, so his opportunity to FAIL and grow our FAIL has been limited.

Barbara Miller-Williams has no fewer than three jobs, none of which are in the private sector. A national guard volunteer, a cop, and a legislator, she will be set for life when she retires. It came to light that Miller-Williams must have been quite overworked last year, as she maximizes her overtime so as to inflate her lifetime state-tax-free pension. As the Chairwoman of the legislature, she gets a nice little stipend, Lynn Marinelli’s scorn, faint praise from her temporary Republican allies, all while stumbling and bumbling through procedure. She joins the prestigious ranks of other Democrat-pisser-offers like Joel Giambra, Chuck Swanick, and Chris Collins. Evidently, Collins bought her cooperation with a $300,000 county check payable to the Colored Musicians’ Club, where Miller-Williams’ husband is VP of the Board. Miller-Williams was also an appointee to the legislature, selected to serve out the remainder of convict George Holt’s term. While procedural nonsense may be going on in the Leg, most of Miller-Williams’ substantive votes have been with the remaining Democrats. Adding to the overall FAIL, when Miller-Williams ascended to the chairmanship, she jettisoned a group of dedicated Democratic leg staff so that Pigeon-friendly and Grassroots-friendly folks could waltz in, some of whom had no other qualification other than knowing someone powerful. The legislative payroll appears to have gone up significantly under Miller-Williams’ strange definition of “reform”. The FAIL is strong with this one.


Collins' Constituents: Businesses Only

29 Nov

Erie County Executive Chris Collins’ spokesman Grant Loomis asks a non-rhetorical question:

Why should taxpayers subsidize the capital improvements of other taxpayers?

That question is asked in connection with home improvement tax relief legislation being considered in the county legislature. Ty Pennington would be proud.

Under the proposal, county government would delay taxing expensive additions — those worth $3,000 to $80,000 — that raise the taxable value of single-family and two-family homes.

So rather than taxing a $25,000 addition as soon as it goes on the tax rolls, the county would exempt the improvement from taxes in the first year. The county would then remove 20 percent of the exemption a year over the next five years, in effect taking six years to tax the addition at its full value.

In theory, the tax break would encourage investment in neighborhoods, especially in older homes found in Buffalo and its inner-ring suburbs. Other communities are considering similar abatements on their own property taxes.

Collins is against this legislation because, “Why should taxpayers subsidize the capital improvements of other taxpayers?” Yet coincidentally, Collins is in favor of PILOT programs and Empire Zone tax breaks to businesses, so his philosophical opposition to this idea, as set forth by his spokesguy, is (a) disingenuous at best; and/or (b) a blatant lie. (You pick).

So, if the tax abatement goes to big business, Collins is totally on board. If the tax abatement goes to people, he’s opposed. I extrapolate from this that Collins is opposed to the STAR rebate / property tax reduction program because it helps average homeowners and not, e.g., Volland Electric.

The curtain on this whole “running government like a business” charade is getting pulled back more and more each day.

And henceforth, when Collins attends a ribbon-cutting or (more likely) an announcement of something being built with the help of public subsidies or incentives, the question must be asked:

Why should taxpayers subsidize the capital improvements of other taxpayers?

County Business

16 Nov

Collins supporters often counter the criticism that the shunting of responsibility for WIC and county clinics to private charities is inconsistent with the continued operation of county golf courses by citing the fact that those golf courses earn a profit for the county.

Obviously, that’s hardly the county’s raison d’etre, nor are golf services mandated by the state or federal governments.

But County Legislator Maria Whyte charges that the health clinics,

operate in the black and make a profit for Erie County. It simply doesn’t make fiscal sense to discontinue anything that brings in revenue to Erie County, especially when state aid and federal stimulus dollars are rapidly drying up.

The Obligatory Endorsement Post

2 Nov

I’ve done it every other election season, so why stop now, right?

But this year is different.

First of all, let’s dispense with what Rumsfeld would call the known knowns:  nobody gives a crap whom I endorse for elected office, and this is a completely meaningless post as a practical matter. I do not presume to have any influence over anyone’s vote, nor do I suppose that anyone really cares.

But I’ll do it anyway because I like to.

This is not, however a prediction post, so when you post a comment in a few months telling me how stupid and ignorant I am for “predicting” the outcome of a race incorrectly, you will be directed to this paragraph of this post.

This year, I am not going to give any specific endorsements of personalities, rather an un-endorsement of a particular slate of candidates; the Chris Collins slate of candidates.

Much like his chief executive counterpart in Buffalo City Hall, Chris Collins brings to that office charisma and remarkable sum of banked political capital.  Tony Masiello or Joel Giambra were middling apparatchiks who talked a good game but left the office having done more bad than good.  To his credit, Giambra pushed for, but failed to bring about, any sort of regionalism.  Byron Brown and Chris Collins won in recent landslides and have the power, but lack the will, to do very much with it.

Regional metropolitan government could save this region.  We discard it like the morning’s Charmin.

Collins in particular won on a platform of “running government like a business”, being apolitical, reining in costs, lowering taxes, and asking tough questions through, among other things, Six Sigma initiatives.  In practice, however, he has failed at all of those things.

It’s as popular as it is facile to blame his failings on the Democrats, on the unions, on the legislature.  Politics is not a one-person sport.  Part of what makes a good politician is the ability to build consensus – to make the assumption that everyone in government is there to do good by those who sent them there.  Collins bypassed that, and behaved like a bull in a china shop from jump street.  His efforts, like Brown’s, amount to tinpot Machiavellianism – exploiting, for instance, a rift between Lynn Marinelli and Len Lenihan to his advantage, rather than genuinely reaching out to to a stark Democratic legislative majority to enlist their help to develop a strategy for betterment of the region.

The notion that Collins is apolitical is a falsity.

“Running government like a business” is a happy-sounding mantra that makes the electorate believe that he’s going to go after waste and fraud, and really streamline government.  That’s happened only on the fringes, and has been almost exclusively directed at the poor, the sick, the single parents – people who need help, but people on whom Collins could never count to support him.  He gave them even less reason to, arguing that 100% federal reimbursement of certain programs that assist the poor was irrelevant, and shunted these responsibilities off to charities.  He’s saving money on legacy costs, he argues.  Yet he has made no moves to, e.g., close golf courses that also employ county workers who also represent legacy costs.  That choice is neither political nor businesslike.

In other words, whatever little streamlining there’s been, it’s been decided politically.

Cutting waste and spending?  Like his predecessor, Collins hired people whom he knew (nothing wrong with that) and asked the legislature (which, for the most part, granted his requests) to give raises and variable minimums to his appointees.  This way, a new hire could have, say, 5 years’ worth of seniority on day one.  That’s not how businesses are run, is it?  That’s not a reduction in spending, is it?  And Collins blames Albany on 88% of the county budget problems, ignoring the fact that there are opportunities available to maximize savings even on that end of the budgetary spectrum.

It’s not the pablum you should pay attention to – it’s the deeds.

So, Chris Collins has allegedly struck a deal with Byron Brown where the Republicans run no one in city-based races for Mayor or County Legislature.  This guarantees Brown’s re-election unopposed tomorrow, and artifically depresses turnout in the city for the comptroller’s and sheriff’s races, thus helping Kadet and Howard.

And for the suburban races, Collins has deliberately done exactly what Byron Brown did back in 2007 – hand-picked or otherwise supported candidates to challenge elected officials whom Collins has deemed are obstructing his plan for oddly selected spending cuts, tax hikes, and union demonization. Collins’ complained-of inability to get his agenda through the legislature is as much his fault as anyone else’s.  When you treat the legislature like some meddlesome hoop through which you need to jump, rather than a co-equal branch of government, you’re going to run into some problems.

There has been practically zero substance to any of the county legislature races this year.  All anyone wants to talk about is minutiae – how many legislators; how much do they get paid; are they full- or part-time; are there extended terms; are there term limits; do they keep district offices.  There’s no referendum on Collins’ initiatives versus anyone else’s.  There’s been no analysis of Six Sigma or taxes or spending or practically any policies whatsoever.  Collins is just trying to stack the leg in his favor so there’s a better chance he’ll get done what he wants done.  I’m not saying that’s abnormal or wrong, per se.  Just true.

One thing’s for sure, if he’s successful, then being a legislator really won’t be full-time.  Introducing and rubber-stamping the executive’s initiatives takes little time or thought.

The sheriff’s race shouldn’t even be close.

The race for comptroller is laughable.  Collins is somehow trying to sell the public on the notion that it’s better that his guy is in that office, rather than someone independent from him.  That way, I guess, we can get the hard-hitting fiscal reporting and analysis we got when Nancy Naples kept an eye on Joel Giambra. Win!

And all of this, remember, is over what everyone will tell you is 12-ish% of the overall county budget.  $1.1 billion altogether, and they’re engaging in blood feuds over $130,000,000.

Since only 12% of the budget is allegedly subject to the political whims and desires of our elected officials, it would appear to me that most of their tasks are ministerial in nature.  In other words, we have no use for county government at all, as currently structured.  We could just as easily just have counties be geographical municipal divisions made up of a handful of elected overseers and a competent bureaucracy.  Make sure the parks are open.  Make sure you can reserve a shelter easily.  Pave the roads.  Fix the bridges.  Plow the streets.  You don’t need 15 elected legislators and a bunch of pointless fighting for that.

But since it’s more fun to bicker over WIC and golf courses, let’s not really get to the heart of the problem, but just skim the surface to please everyone’s constituencies.

Vote however you want on Tuesday.  But for as long as we remain saddled with that pointless anachronism we call county government, let’s maintain a check on the arrogant and misguided county executive until such time as he learns that politics is a game of give and take – not take and shiv.

And let’s start talking about abolishing county government.  Srsly.


18 Sep

I wholeheartedly agree with this letter to the editor of the Buffalo News.

They Answer to No One

2 Sep

The United States Justice Department informed Erie County that it is violating prisoners’ civil rights on a routine basis.  The County administration was asked, but refused, to cooperate with the DOJ’s investigation.

The County Legislature held a hearing on the issue, and no one from the executive branch bothered to show up.  It’s become quite clear that the executive branch of Erie County has chosen to treat the legislative branch and the independent comptroller’s office as non-entities.  Collins has chosen to run his administration like he runs his closely-held corporations – as a one-man show, where whatever he says goes. Every other Republican-run county office has fallen in with that mindset.

That’s all well and good until the federal government informs you that you’re routinely in violation of federal laws and regulations.

These guys have no shame, no conscience, no explanation, no “we’ll try harder”, no “we’ll get Six Sigma right on it”, no nothing.  Just silence.

If Giambra was “King Joel”, then it should be Generalissimo Collins.


Quick Question 3

5 Aug

Since 80 – 90% of its budget is nothing more than an Albany mandate pass-thru, why is it that we need a full-blown county government to manage it? Couldn’t we just hire a professional to deal with it?

Collins Picks Low-Hanging Democratic Fruit

5 Aug

What does Chris Collins want for Christmas?

Apparently, an Erie County Legislature that can’t override his vetoes.

What do I want for Christmas?

To stop writing about an entity called “County Government”.

Late yesterday WNYMedia.net broke the story on Twitter that County Legislator Kathy Konst was set to resign from that body in order to take a job with Chris Collins’ administration.  Konst will become the Commissioner of Environment and Planning, which handles county environmental compliance, economic development & planning, and sewer management.

The Department also provides direct service to residents and municipalities through:

  • The operation of six County sewer districts.
  • The provision of U.S. Census data as an Affiliate Data Center to the New York State Data Center.
  • The provision of technical and educational assistance related to business assistance, physical development, geographic information systems and environmental compliance.
  • Enhancement of cultural resources in the community and region.

The department that Konst will be heading up seems to have jurisdiction over some of the most important issues facing the county – economic development, planning, the environment. Konst has a background in marketing and advertising, and is a past chair of the Lancaster chamber of commerce, but she was in favor of the strategic planning initiative that Collins vetoed. I wish her luck in her new position.

But nominating petitions have been submitted, and it’s now too late for the Democrats to replace Konst with anyone else, meaning it’s likely that the only candidate on the ballot for County Legislature District 5 will be Dino Fudoli. If Konst is replaced by a Democrat for the period between now and December, that Democrat would have to run on a hastily-arranged minor party line.

So, as far as Collins’ Christmas wish, he’s given himself a bit of a cushion. It appears likely that there is one less seat he needs to worry about to get to that magical number 6, so all he needs to do is flip two more seats. Hardwick vs. Iannello seems a possible pickup. I haven’t paid enough attention to the other races yet to figure out if there are any others.

But again, Collins proves himself a very shrewd strategist among a sea of often petty tacticians.


31 Jul

The county legislature set up a commission to study ways in which that body could become leaner and more efficient going forward.  The commission recommended, among other things, that the legislature shrink from 15 members to 11, and that their terms of office be expanded from 2 to 4 years. 2 year terms were thought to be so short that legislators were running for re-election pretty much perpetually.

I would agree with a diminution to 11 with a maximum of two four-year terms.

The legislature, however, decided 13 was just as good as 11, and proposed that a ballot question be put to the voters this fall whether the legislature should shrink from 15 to 13 members/districts, and terms should go from 2 years to 4 years.  Chris Collins put up his dukes and decided to veto this.  He is outraged – OUTRAGED – that the leg combined the questions of term limits and district reduction into one question.

I think that if this is the kind of dumb shit that outrages people, that the legislature should shrink to 0 districts and 0 members, and that Mr. Collins can go back to work at Volland.

BPO Under the Gun

30 Apr

The County Legislature’s Community Enrichment Committee met today, where County Executive Chris Collins and his commissioner, Holly Sinnott, were not treated to a particularly warm and cozy set of questions. The meeting ran an hour longer than scheduled.

At one point during the meeting a question was raised about 2009 arts/cultural contracts with the county that Collins’ office had sent to the county comptroller’s office for checks to be issued. The comptroller’s office had received one such item, received very late in the day yesterday. It was for the BPO in the amount of $407,000. If the check was not issued by tomorrow, the BPO would not make payroll.

And they say government or the arts has no stimulative effect on the economy.