Tag Archives: Erie County government

The Back-to-School Five-Posts-in-One Sale

8 Sep

A few articles for you to take a look at and consider:

1. Chris Collins is a plucky, stubborn sort who likes to “run government like a business that tells everyone to go fuck themselves and take me to court if you don’t like it.”  The Buffalo News scores his head-butting so far.  I suspect that the Collins administration acts as a sort of real-life example of what a Paladino governorship might look like.  A lot of tough, obnoxious talk – a lot of demonization of enemies both real and imagined – efforts to change things through confrontation and litigation, rather than compromise – and in the end, not very much really ends up changing.  We’d not be changing the game – just the way we play it.

2. NYPA is to keep in WNY more money from energy generated in WNY. This is a good thing. Specifically, the proceeds of NYPA’s sale of unused hydro power would go into a fund to help economic development in Erie and Niagara Counties.  Predictably, there is disagreement as to how much money we’re really talking about.  The consensus seems to be that it’s “a lot”.

3.  In Artvoice, Bruce Fisher wonders why it is that the Buffalo Niagara Partnership – what passes for our local “chamber of commerce” and is charged with, among other things, attracting businesses to this region – talks about how badly it sucks here with such regularity.  His conclusion:

If neutral outside observers praise our cultural, architectural, and landscape fabric, and also praise our cost-effectiveness, and note that there is positive economic growth even as our population shrinks, and that there could be more if we clean up our water, then why is the messaging from our business community so relentlessly negative?

The answer, simply, is that there are two economies here. There is real economy of the producer, the consumer, the merchant, and the much-maligned public sector; the latter, all told, constitutes about one-fifth of the workforce and the payroll. That’s the economy that seems to work positively.

And then there is the economy of those in the business world here who live by the big public project—the bankers and their various support personnel, the engineering and construction firms, and about 3,000 workers (out of a regional workforce of over 550,000) whose leading voices tell this community that massive, disruptive change is needed, or else, as the Partnership’s bow-tied leader recently said, we should all move to Florida, which is the home of America’s most enormous object lesson in what happens when you turn the economy over to real-estate developers and bankers.

I don’t agree with everything Fisher says in his piece, nor with his breakdown of, essentially “good” and “bad” development in Buffalo, and I think he’s ignoring the pervasive and disproportionately strong influence that the big-money foundations have in this community and what gets done here, but it’s a thought-provoking piece, nonetheless.

4. While the commander of American forces in Afghanistan practically begs some asshat in Florida to not hold “burn a Koran day” on September 11th because it’s sort of pissing off the 100% Muslim population of American-occupied Afghanistan, Feisel Abdul Rauf writes in the New York Times in defense of the Park51 community center planned for a site a few blocks away from New York’s World Trade Center site.  The protestations against Park51 stink like an anti-Muslim Kristallnacht more and more each day.

5. The New York Times conducts an “analysis” into Carl Paladino’s status as a big-time Albany insider who likes to play a game of make-believe about being an apolitical tea party activist rich guy.  Seems similar to the analysis done by writers at WNYMedia.net back in March and April.

On “Fairness” and Collins

29 Jul

1. I was told yesterday that one of the plaintiffs in the new Bass Pro lawsuit did not want to speak with Chris or Marc or anyone from WNYMedia.net because I hadn’t called him (or any of the plaintiffs) for comment before writing this blog post. Well, here’s why. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve called someone for comment on anything I was going to write – because this isn’t news. This is editorial commentary. If I’ve read the text of the lawsuit, haven’t I already consumed their “side of the story?” If I’ve read the straight reporting from the News or Artvoice or Channel 2, I’ve absorbed the facts I need to see in order to formulate an opinion and reach a conclusion.

In the case of the professional plaintiffs’ society, the lawsuit text speaks for itself. What could the Fishers, e.g., possibly add except some pro-Fisher, anti-ECHDC spin?

The reason we still maintain a comments section, and the reason my email is available on the site, is so that anyone who cares to do so can leave a comment on the site or via email. If any of the plaintiffs want to respond, they could do so in any one of those ways. Ray Walter is smart – his opinion differs from ours on just about everything, but he’s secure enough in his convictions to mix it up with us – even yesterday on Brad Riter’s show on WECK.

If you have something to say, say it. Passive aggression is silly.

2. (Hey, look! I’ve included two blog posts in one. I have streamlined the blogging process and thus saved you about 20 seconds’ worth of clicking.)

“Pundit hates Chris Collins”. I realize that my audience is much, much bigger than it was when Joel Giambra was county executive, but if you compare what I wrote then to what I write now about Collins, you’ll note that my current material is quite tame and reasonable in comparison.

I don’t hate Chris Collins. I don’t have any emotional response to Chris Collins. What I think is that Chris Collins is a bland, uninspiring technocrat – a micromanaging, hyperpolitical, beancounting pencil-pusher who is perpetually frustrated that he can’t just run the county like a dictatorship. He is neither used to, nor tolerant of, opposition or criticism. He can solve any personal or political problem through free spending, yet Erie County’s poor and working poor have their desperately needed, federally reimbursed services cut or privatized.

Not to bring up Ray Walter’s name again, but he called in yesterday on Brad Riter’s show to defend Collins and the budgetary choices he’s made. To Walter’s mind, Collins has “reformed” county government by virtue of his careful choices with respect to taxes and spending.

But that’s not reform. I don’t define reform as “playing the same old rules a bit differently” or “pinching pennies”. When you’re talking about a prospective $30 million + budget deficit that’s been forecast for months, penny pinching isn’t obviously solving the fundamental problems.

Reform to me means things like implementing performance-based budgeting – something that was added to the Erie County Charter overwhelmingly by the voters via 2006 referendum. This isn’t a partisan attack, by the way. Clarence’s Democratic Town Supervisor, Scott Bylewski has seen to it that Six Sigma process improvements have gone hand-in-hand with performance-based budgeting to reduce waste in both time and money. Reforms introduced in the legislature by long-ago names like “Locklear” and “Konst” and “Iannello” still languish in committee limbo, never to be debated or voted on.

And above all, the micromanaging Pigeon ally technocrat is more concerned with power and image than he is with making important changes to the very structure of Erie County through regionalism, consolidation of taxing entities, which would improve interagency, inter-entity efficiency and lurch our governmental structure out of the 19th century and into the 21st. Yes, I know that Erie County is a legal construct and subsidiary of the State, but state legislators have been working on making it extraordinarily easy for counties to change how they are structuredright down to abolition.

It’s nice that Chris Collins wants to save money, but it would be nicer if he looked at the big picture, fundamental changes that might save millions rather than thousands, and bring about reforms (or at least advocate for them) that would help make Erie County more competitive.

Say what you want about Giambra’s two terms of fail, but at least he was out there using his bully pulpit for big ideas like regionalism every once in a while.

Reform isn’t defined by the way in which you play the game. It’s defined by changing the game itself.

The Six Sigma Deficit

28 Jul

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In running the county like a business, Chris Collins has strong-armed his way into a projected $36 million deficit for 2011.

I wonder how much the deficit would be without Six Sigma?

In implementing lean Six Sigma viz. county processes, he may have streamlined some of them, but ask anyone in county government to affix a dollar figure thereby saved, and they can’t.

The implementation of Six Sigma, which hasn’t resulted in any quantifiable dollar savings for the county, cost the state and county hundreds of thousands of dollars in training and personnel.

Back in 2004, when the county faced a $200 million shortfall, then-County Executive Joel Giambra tried to strongarm the populace into choosing between an austere “red” budget and a tax-hikey “green” budget, which preserved the status quo.

In 2011, we won’t have that luxury. Mr. Collins will have chosen the “red” budget for us.

All that being said, here is the real problem I have.

1. None of this is a surprise. It was reported on as long ago as January, when the Control Board and Collins discussed whether 2011 would see a $50 million or $23 shortfall.

2. The fact that we’re right back to where we are in 2004 – 2005, with respect to the way in which the county handles its finances – in this case with a so-called “Control Board” is phenomenally disappointing. Nothing’s changed. The whole county government construct must be abolished as a redundant tax-sucking anachronism.

Three Rs? He hasn’t reformed, he hasn’t rebuilt the economy, and he hasn’t reduced taxes. Instead, he’s reaffirmed the fact that counties are the needless micromanaging middleman of New York State government.

Dueling Legislators

9 Jul

Yesterday during the Erie County Legislative session, there was a very big confrontation between Betty Jean Grant and Barbara Miller-Williams over the legislature’s implementation of sections of the county’s settlement with the USDOJ over Erie County jail conditions. Betty Jean Grant complained that the community-at-large – and she – had had no opportunity to be heard on these changes and how they might be implemented.

Part of the problem, she said, is that Christina Bove, the renegade Democratic chair of the Public Safety Committee, had repeatedly refused to call a committee meeting so that these items may be discussed.

Grant said that Miller-Williams, as chairwoman of the legislature, has the power to convene such a committee meeting, or at least persuade her “reform coalition” ally to do so. The verbal back and forth became quite heated, with Grant at one point daring Miller-Williams to have her forcibly removed from the chamber.

We got both legislators’ comments after session ended.

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Erie County: An Orgy of Transactional Politics

5 Jul

Steve Pigeon is de facto dictator of the Independence Party, and its endorsements in Erie County.

Steve Pigeon is Pedro Espada’s employee, earning receiving $150,000 in taxpayer dollars per year.

Steve Pigeon, working with Senate candidate Tim Kennedy, longtime associate Christina Bove, and sole Grassroots-connected legislator Barbara Miller-Williams, orchestrated an alliance between them and the Republican minority, thus effectively obliterating the Democratic legislative majority that was hard-fought during the 2009 elections.

In order for Pigeon to retain his Senate position, he is dependent on the continuation of a Democratic Senate majority. He calculated early on that Kennedy may be a better Democratic Senate candidate than Bill Stachowski.

Sandy Rosenswie is the nominal chair of the Erie County Independence Party (IP).

Sandy Rosenswie was hired by the Erie County Legislature’s “reform coalition” majority.

Tim Kennedy, who is a member of that “reform coalition”, is reportedly going to receive the IP endorsement.

It’s an orgy of transactional politics that ensures exactly one thing only: that Steve Pigeon retains his highly paid position suckling at the public teat. It’s also a scenario that never could have occurred in quite that way without the existence of electoral fusion, the root of many electoral evils in New York State.

Also see (NSFW):

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Collins’ “Course” is Equal Parts Dictatorial and Transactional

28 Jun

Here’s a short review of Chris Collins’ first 29 months in office. Some successes, some failures. Running county government “like a [closely-held, non-public] business”.

I don’t fully understand why the Democratic “majority” hasn’t yet taken Collins to court over his repeated refusals to carry out decisions and make appropriations for which the legislature has voted. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that three of them are aligned with him, and their staffers are busy sending “let’s get her!” texts to legislators whose names happen to appear next to “Grant, Chris” in their address books.

Collins runs county government not so much like a business – because there are several kinds and constructs of businesses – but more like a petit dictatorship. The most telling part of the News’ article:

I let people picket me, chirp at me, editorialize against me, write letters about me. It doesn’t matter.

I let?!” The only thing missing there is the majestic plural. Chris Collins all but admits that he thinks he has the power to place prior restraint on press and criticism he doesn’t like.

What the Buffalo News doesn’t do in this piece is pull the trigger on the only clear conclusion to be drawn from Collins’ tenure.

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While running, he pledged to not be “chief politician”. Yet he is the most hyper-political, transactional person in county government today, cutting deals with Grassroots and Steve Pigeon in order to weaken the Democratic establishment. Cutting deals with the ECFSA to get one over on the county comptroller he so detests.

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#ecleg #ecjails #ecfail (UPDATED)

4 Mar

You can get constant updates about what sorts of needless shenanigans the pointless, ministerial Erie County Legislature is up to by following the #ecleg hashtag on Twitter. Today’s session also contained an actual debate over whether the legislature should do its job and look into how the county jails are being managed given the third suicide in as many months.

In addition, we’ll have the opportunity to abolish the whole damn thing reduce the legislature from 15 to 11 members in November.

I wonder if we could write-in a reduction to zero?

UPDATE: Here are excerpts from the debate on a non-binding resolution to condemn needless and possibly preventable multiple suicides in the county jails.

So much argument for a non-binding fucking resolution.

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County Leg Reform? Costing You More

4 Mar

The Erie County Legislature’s reform coalition, which enabled the Republican minority to become a de facto majority, had pledged to be fiscally responsible and save the taxpayers money. They clamor for legislative downsizing, the closing of district offices, and other incremental baby-steps that might save literally tens of thousands of dollars.

Not the biggest chunk to take out of a $1.1 billion budget, but every little bit helps, right?

Not so fast.

A report from the Erie County Comptroller’s office finds that there has been reform, but not necessarily the kind everyone expected.

One would presume that a group of legislators whose drive to reduce their own numbers and to close district offices would ensure that the ranks of the staff would also be reduced, and that salaries would – at the very least – stay the same for those who remain.

The resolution that implemented these changes promised that they would “result in immediate [and future] savings to the taxpayers of Erie County”.

The 2010 budget enacted by the prior legislature allowed for 17 central staff positions and 20 district staff positions at a total cost of $1,219,464.

The reform coalition’s reform? 16 central staff positions and 17 district staff positions at a total cost of $1,262,305.

Factoring in the raises given to some staffers, the net increase to Erie County taxpayers is $42,841.

As political philosopher and chicken rotisserie salesman Ron Popeil would say, “but wait! There’s more!”

There are also two vacant legislative positions budgeted at almost $80,000 that still exist in the county’s employee database, and a new hire for the Republican minority will be eligible for a $2,672 raise in 2010 which is not budgeted for.

So, when all is said and done, the net impact on the county budget from the reform coalition’s alleged reforms is a net increase of $121,958 – a total of $1,341,422 to pay people to help serve a legislative body that exists almost exclusively to pay well-connected people $1,341,422 and rubber-stamp Albany mandates.

The Republican legislators have indeed closed their district offices, which may result in a savings of $60,000 per year in rent and utilities. They didn’t concomitantly omit funding for the staffers who manned those offices, however. They’ll just be moved downtown.

So, in quite literally its first act as a “reform” coalition, it bumped up the legislature’s budget by a net 5%. The savings derived from the closing of offices merely acts to halve the cost of new patronage hires, and raises for certain positions.

For a legislature that is fundamentally a useless exercise in ministerial futility, this is outrageous. Given the position we as Erie County taxpayers are in – living in a dysfunctional high-tax county in a dysfunctional high-tax state – it’s an insult. To me, it underscores the fact that no one in this political cesspool is serious about real reform, or cost savings.

At least one of the people in the cost-hike-coalition is running for higher office. Tim Kennedy ought to have to explain day in and day out on the campaign trail why it is that he voted to impose an extra $120k upon the taxpayers of Erie County so that connected friends and friends of connections could get jobs and raises.

It’s as disgusting as it is outrageous. Shame.

Drama at the Leg: As Fun as it is Pointless

25 Feb

In the Erie County Legislature, there is a weekly drama unfolding that is really quite entertaining.

On the one hand, you have West Seneca legislator and Pigeon acolyte Christina Bove passing on votes until she finds out how her colleagues voted.  She almost invariably votes the way Chairwoman Barbara Miller-Williams votes.

On the other hand, you have former Chairwoman Lynn Marinelli assert herself quite forcefully with Miller-Williams to the point where the exchanges between them becomes downright belligerent, with Marinelli backhandedly reminding BMW that she used to be the big cheese.  Today, BMW just about ejected Marinelli from the chamber.

Good times.

And to think that for the most part the jobs that these 15 people do are largely ceremonial and ministerial things that a computer could be programmed to do.

Thank God, however, that we that Chris “Six Sigma saved us $7.5 million” Collins doesn’t have carte blanche to do whatever he wants with impunity.

Yet.

The ECFSA Must Go

13 Feb
Image of Chris Collins from Facebook

Image of Chris Collins

The way you know a deal was cut between Chris Collins and the control board to avoid Collins the embarrassment of the ECFSA returning to control status?

Just how much both sides are denying that a deal was cut.

In essence, Collins just abdicated to an unelected state board made up of ex-county officials something that is within the province of currently elected county officials.

Why? No one can give a straight answer as to how much money this clownish, small-town decision will actually save, but at least Collins isn’t embarrassed.

Just like in business.