Tag Archives: Waste

Paladino: Welfare Queen

22 Sep

Whilst Republican gubernatorial candidate and imminent front-runner Carl Paladino focuses a laser-like hatred and disdain for those unhygienic lazy welfare queens, he is not above taking state taxpayers’ money through incentives and Empire Zone credits, and basically misusing them in such a way that the job-creation purpose behind them is practically being mocked.

Specifically,

The heads of the local AFL-CIO and Buffalo Building & Construction Trades Council have penned the following letter to Mr. Paladino:

As you can see, the property for which he obtained the credits remains undeveloped.

[HTML1]

Blow the Whistle

23 Dec

It just might pay off:

POLONCARZ ISSUES STATEMENT ON FORMER COUNTY PROBATION DIRECTOR

Comptroller Notes His Office’s Role in Investigation

Erie County Comptroller Mark C. Poloncarz issued the following statement regarding the filing of criminal charges today by New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo against George Alexander, former chairman and chief executive officer of the New York State Division of Parole. Mr. Alexander was the former Director of the Erie County (“County”) Department of Probation (“Probation”), who resigned last week from his state position following the issuance of a New York State Inspector General report that found that he had misappropriated a County computer and engaged in wrongdoing while a senior state employee.

The announcement that New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has filed criminal charges in Buffalo City Court against George Alexander should be viewed by the public as an affirmation of the rule that if you are a public official or employee and you misuse public resources you will be investigated and held accountable for your actions regardless of your position. As the taxpayers watchdog in Erie County I am proud that an investigation started in my office has led to an appropriate action. I applaud Attorney General Cuomo and the New York State Inspector General’s Office for their efforts to root out corruption in government and to defend taxpayers against dishonest public employees.

On April 11, 2008, my office received a one-page anonymous letter in the mail. This letter, which was also apparently sent to top state officials, county legislators, and media outlets, alleged that the County had purchased a new laptop computer using grant funds and that during an audit, the laptop had been found to be missing. The letter further stated that the laptop had been traced to Mr. Alexander, who returned the “stolen computer and the matter (was) dropped.”

Upon our receipt of this letter, my office immediately commenced an investigation. Our investigation in April-May 2008 included extensive data collection, separate interviews with seven County employees, and an interview with Mr. Alexander conducted by myself and another member of my office’s staff.

Unfortunately, during our investigation, senior officials from the Collins Administration attempted to prevent our office from investigating this matter. (WTF??!! – BP) They initially denied our request to interview County employees. Only after I threatened to issue subpoenas did the Collins Administration authorize County employees to speak with my staff. In addition, senior management in the Erie County Sheriff’s Office refused to provide my office with a copy of their police report detailing their office’s limited role in this matter (we eventually obtained a copy of the report from Probation officials). I note that Probation officials cooperated fully with our inquiry.

My investigation found inconsistencies in and between Mr. Alexander’s statements and those of his former subordinates. We believed that Mr. Alexander’s explanations and responses to our questions were not credible. We also found that Probation had no justifiable reason for purchasing the laptop at the end of the state grant and then provide it to Alexander just before he resigned from the County to join the State Division of Parole. Our report also found significant failures of internal control in Probation and the County’s purchasing and asset tracking process for equipment. It is quite apparent that only a select few Probation employees were aware of the laptop’s purchase, and none knew that Mr. Alexander possessed it.

Following our interview of Mr. Alexander, I contacted a senior aide to Governor David Paterson to inform his administration that one of their cabinet-level department heads was under investigation by my office for the misappropriation of County resources and that we were nearing completion of our review. Very shortly thereafter, I was contacted by a representative of the State Inspector General’s Office who informed me that they were commencing an investigation into the matter. In May 2008, I and my staff member charged with investigating the matter met with the Inspector General’s representatives and presented our findings to them. I was subsequently contacted by officials from the New York State Attorney General’s Office Public Integrity Bureau and shared our findings with them.

Since that time, I remained in contact with state officials concerning this matter, including the Attorney General’s office. At the request of the Inspector General’s and Attorney General’s offices, and due to their separate investigations, I did not disclose my findings or comment on this matter until they could conclude their work so as to not jeopardize any criminal investigation they were undertaking. Regardless of the outcome of this matter, I look forward to continuing to partner with the Attorney General on his efforts to root out public corruption as both our offices work to help restore the public’s trust in our government.

Now that this matter has been brought to the public, and speaking on behalf of my office, I reaffirm to the public that if you are aware of potential waste, fraud, or abuse of your tax dollars, please report it to my office immediately. Mr. Alexander’s resignation and prosecution appears to partially be the result of an anonymous tip. This shows that every tip will be investigated by my office regardless of the potential party alleged to have conducted the wrongdoing. Our office created the County’s whistleblower hotline which allows you the public to report alleged wrongdoing anonymously, via letter, e-mail, the Internet or telephone. We investigate every allegation, take all reports seriously, and as is evident from this matter, will forward the information we obtain to other parties to pursue a criminal investigation if warranted.

Byzantine Work Rules & the BMHA

18 Dec

Last week, I linked to a post that Buffalo Geek did about the 72-step process to rent a shelter at a county park and how the parks department is using Six Sigma to streamline that and make it cheaper, more efficient, and customer-friendly. When you see 72 post-it notes representing a step in the process, you realize that it is graphical evidence of the heart and soul of governmental waste and failure.

Buffalo Ideas’ Paul Wolf is a lawyer for the BMHA, and he has a similar post up today:

Everyday I try to make a difference at BMHA, but years of political influence and bureaucracy have made it truly a tough place to work. One time I wrote a memo directing the Finance Department to pay an outstanding bill that was brought to my attention. I was told the memo needed to be on green paper in order for the department to act. What? After asking why and being told that’s how we do things around here, I went to the copy machine and copied the memo onto green paper. The flow chart of how payroll is done is an amazing sight, the steps involved for a contractor to get paid is unbelieveable. I and several other employees with the support of Executive Director Dawn Sanders, are working on obtaining our Yellow Belts in Six Sigma as a tool for addressing bureaucracy issues.

Not for nothing, I’m all for Six Sigma and whatever it takes to make government run more efficiently, but isn’t that something that could have been done just by the use of common sense any time in the last 20 years? Just sayin’.

In any event, the BMHA has two vacancies on its board of directors, and Wolf is openly soliciting applicants with some specific experience and a desire to make positive change to apply via Mayor Brown’s office. The best way to implement change in stubborn, inefficient quasi-governmental entities is to join them and lurch them into the 21st Century.

Joe Bruno Always Looked out for #1

19 Jul

Joe Bruno, that is.

He was on the state payroll for 39 years, and his base legislative salary was $79,500. But you will be financing his retirement with an annual pension of $95,000, based on 41.7 years of pension credits.

How’s that?

Well, the pension calculation also takes into account an additional “stipend” of $41,000 he got as majority leader. And he gets an extra two years of pension credits as a Tier 1 system worker qualified for Section 80-a benefits for legislative employees who began before July 1, 1973 under a law that somehow got through the Senate in 2000 — while Joe Bruno was majority leader.

So, he passed a law that approved more money for him.

Hey, Erie County Employees

17 Jul

Blow the whistle on fraud, waste, and other abuses of the system. The county has a budget within which it has to operate, and if people you know are futzing with the system in order to unjustly enrich themselves or otherwise cheat the county, everyone suffers. Not just the taxpayer – but you, because your job might be the one cut to make up the difference.

whistleblower@erie.gov is the email address to use.

858-7722 is the phone number to call.

Or click this link to go to the web form.

All tips will be kept confidential.

Historical Accuracy

19 Jun

Score one more point for the preservation community. The unique nature and “sense of place” of the Erie Canal Harbor Terminal has been re-created almost perfectly.

Floating human shit and other trash and garbage have become problematic in the channel. Given that the Canal district used to be filled with whorehouses and other seediness during its 19th century heyday, it is only fitting that the district revert to its pre-sanitary sewer days.

Cronk saw manure piled over two stories high in back of the bams. As one approached, the pile would give the appearance of shaking, quivering. Closer examine (sic) this, if your nose could stand it and you could cut through the clouds of flies, would reveal millions of crawling impure maggots feeding on the excrement.

Hamburgh canal caught most of the garbage from the city. This collected in the almost stagnant waters of the Hamburgh Canal. One hundred and 50 feet below Louisiana at a small slip that reached to the harbor a large propeller from an old tug swiveled continually sucking in the filth-polluted water and kicking it into the harbor. This stirred up huge chunks of concentrated filth, created huge gas decay, babbles, .7 feet in diameter, which would shoot to the surface, explode and fill the air with such a nauseating smell thatpeople would be sick for a week.

The manure piles, the filth of the canal lured swarms of scavenger flies, while the stagnant waters attracted mosquitoes whose stingers inhabitants thou ht must have been fille-I -ith (indecipherable) files. Aboard the canal boat the stable housed two horses. The crew protected themselves with netting. It was the horses in addition to the two which were housed in the barns on the waterfront.”

I can’t imagine anything more enjoyable than enjoying an ice cream cone by the water and …. eew, someone ate corn!

Small Mindedness in Small Doses can have Huge Consequences

28 May

[HTML1]

Via Bruce Andriatch’s column today, I find this recount of Kevin Gaughan’s “The Cost” tour’s stop in the Village of Blasdell:

we arrived in Blasdell last night with heads high and spirits even higher. As we entered village hall, though, Mayor Ernie Jewett summoned me to his office and changed everything. He said that I could not use the word “consolidation” or “dissolution” in my presentation. If I did, he would end the meeting and have me removed from the hall.

Two of my students from UB Law School, Lindsay Heckler and Dan Lesniewski, were along last night. Dan was outraged by Jewett’s stricture. Lindsay seemed almost saddened at the notion that anyone, let alone a public official, would attempt to curtail another’s right to free speech.

But to cast Mayor Jewett’s order in a constitutional context elevates his small gesture beyond its worth. Jewett acted out of fear. Fear of having residents learn that perhaps there’s a better way to govern than his; fear that citizens would connect the dots between too much government and too little growth; and fear that a system that’s served him better than it has served residents might be forced to change.

The once proud Village of Blasdell today bears more resemblance to an abandoned community. In the over 30 years since the steel industry that sustained it collapsed, no government and no politician has reversed its painful decline. If you are under 18 or over 65 and live in Blasdell, according to the most recent U.S. Census, you likely live near or under the poverty line. And no matter what your age, the value your home, the number of your neighbors, and the quality of your life have all declined.

Against that painful backdrop, last night Ernie Jewett refused to discuss the need for reform. As far more powerful politicians throughout history have learned, though, while he can ban the idea of change in his chambers, he cannot banish it from the minds of citizens.

Constitutional issues of prior restraint of political speech aside, the entire community should be outraged at this sheer, patent idiocy. Gaughan’s advocacy for downsizing and consolidation is dangerous to a certain class of people which thrives on waste, redundancy, and ignorance. What Mr. Jewett did by prohibiting Gaughan from bringing up consolidation is underscore its very need. We don’t need small-minded emperors running needless political entities which serve to spend taxpayer money in unsustainable ways. What harm is there if the villages of Hamburg and Blasdell are no more? I don’t really know. But I do know that there’s great harm in prohibiting the discussion of that topic.

Andriatch spoke with Mr. Jewett:

Asked about the matter the following day, Jewett offered this response: “Mr. Gaughan was invited to speak about his previous presentations to all the boards, village and town. And he was told that it was the unanimous decision of the [Blasdell] Board of Trustees that he was welcome to talk about downsizing, and he was told he was not allowed to talk about dissolving the village.”

Why is that?

“Why is that?” Jewett said, repeating the question as if shocked that it needed to be asked. “Because the village is willing to listen to any way that we can better serve our constituents, but that’s a decision that the board feels is up to the village residents and the board.”

The mayor noted that Blasdell already has taken steps to consolidate some services, including merging its building department with the Town of Hamburg’s. And he is open to other ways to save taxpayers money.

Asked if refusing to allow a speaker to use a word or espouse an idea might have been overkill, Jewett reiterated that Gaughan was invited to speak about downsizing.

Perhaps, Mr. Jewett, the best way for you to serve your constituents would be to make them constituents of a different political corporate entity. Sounds to me as if you inadvertently made that case for Mr. Gaughan.

Was CitiStat Asleep?

22 May

Artvoice reports on the City Comptroller’s preliminary audit of the Mayor’s Impact Team, members of which were caught on video working on a supervisor’s home’s landscaping one day:

What we have found in our preliminary review of the Mayor’s Impact Team is a lack of controls across the board that in effect condones an environment where incidents like the one that allegedly occurred on April 25 can take place. Let me cite a few examples.

A spot check on May 13 at the Impact Team’s headquarters in Shoshone Park found time sheets that had been signed twice for the day, even though the workday was not yet complete. Also at Shoshone Park we discovered poor inventory controls with a lack of proper marking and reliance mostly on the memory of one employee.

We also found areas of concern regarding fuel, a costly item in the current economic environment. Four employees have access to the Fuelmaster system but gas cans can be filled for mowers and gas-powered equipment with no odometer readings, using instead the reading from the truck carrying the equipment. If a gas container can be filled, so can an unregistered vehicle, or at least topped off. Tighter controls are obviously needed.

As to the day in question, April 25, according to MIT officials, members of the Impact Team were absent without leave that afternoon when the work on the private residence took place. The sign-out sheets for that day indicate that two employees including the crew chief, who approved the time sheet, signed out at noon. Another worked signed in and out and later crossed his name out altogether.

After the fact, a slip requesting a day off for that employee appeared in Public Works offices, signed by the crew chief. There are no records to account for the use of city vehicles or equipment.

Read the whole post here.

Subsidizing Nonsense

5 May

As much as we bitch and moan about the perks offered to the members of public sector unions (comp time, generous vacation and benefits packages), often overlooked are the perks offered to electeds.

Much was made back in the day about Joel Giambra’s massive SUV with driver.

But what of Tom Reynolds’ Mountaineer? What of Louise Slaughter’s Buick Lucerne or Brian Higgins’ Ford Exploder?

The News detailed that taxpayers pay $500 per month for the Mountaineer, $411 per month for the Explorer, and a mind-boggling $808 per month for Slaughter’s Buick.

At least you can hand it to the local delegation for buying American.

Down in the City…

Rep. Gregory W. Meeks, D-Queens, leases a Lexus for $998 a month; Rep. Charles Rangel takes a 2004 Cadillac DeVille for $778 a month; Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-Middletown, leases a BMW 530i for $500 a month and a Nissan Altima for his chief of staff for $200 a month.

The vehicles are supposed to be for official business only. But it’s difficult to determine if members indeed use their vehicles only for job-related duties.

Most likely, Slaughter’s lease costs $808 because her district is about 80 miles long and the lease probably incorporates a high mileage allowance – more than the standard 12k per year.

But why on Earth should taxpayers be paying for a Lexus or a Cadillac or a 5-series? Why can’t these people just use their own personal vehicles, and get reimbursed for the mileage like most of us? If we expect public sector unions to sacrifice, how about showing them how it’s done, for God’s sake?

The salary for rank-and-file members of the House and Senate is $169,300 this year. Taxpayers subsidize meals at their cafeterias, haircuts and memberships at their special fitness clubs. They can zip into free parking spots near the terminals at Washington’s airports.

Some federal representatives probably know the shock of paying for their own gas these days. Higgins says he fills his wife’s minivan and the personal auto he drives when in Washington.

Their salary is ample. Their perks are legendary. If a Congressperson wants to buy a gas guzzling SUV, then by all means, go for it.

On your own dime. And pay for your own gas, too.

I don’t mind subsidizing food stamps for the poor, and I don’t mind subsidizing health care for the needy.

I do mind subsidizing dumb vehicle choices for well-to-do, privileged members of Congress.

Hindsight is 20:20 and Expensive

25 Apr

The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation has asked its daddy, the Empire State Development Corporation, for some changes to stuff that’s already been done to the Canal Side site. From a letter penned by ECHDC chair Jordan Levy:

  • Removing the interpretative facade and relocating its glass map along the bottom half of the structure to another location on the site. The top panels should stored and used later in a proposed Erie Canal museum, Levy said.
  • The lime green “Commercial Slip” lettering across an existing bridge be removed and the bridge re-painted to hide the sign’s presence.
  • Small signs offering historical information, perspective and back stories should be installed along the brick ruins from what remains of the Steamboat Hotel that sits alongside the commercial slip. A second series of signs designating which stones along the commercial slip are original should also be installed.
  • Relocating see-through, glass historical signs along the railroad bridge walkway down to the commercial slip.
  • Adding a second locator sign along the west side of the commercial slip.
  • Building a temporary fence with a historic feel that separates the public portion of the harbor project from those sections still under construction.
  • The “interpretive facade” is dumb as bricks, cost $200,000, and it’s incredible to me that this was permitted to move forward in the first place.

    The lime green lettering? I say spread it around! Tourists should always know at all times what they’re looking at, and it should be in lime green lettering 5 feet high.

    The scoreboard thing?

    Hell, it was the only opportunity for the state to recoup some money. It should just be leased to Lamar and feature the smiling faces of Mssrs. Cellino and Barnes. (If you think I’m kidding, I’m kind of not. I think the state should make an effort to monetize everything it does through advertising because its mission should be to minimize the taxpayers’ cost. Why is EZ-Pass not sponsored? Why aren’t there ads or coupons on the back of the parking slips you get from the pay & display meters? Why aren’t certain displays at the canal project “brought to you by Rich Products” or similar?)

    Seriously, after so much hand-wringing over the location of a store, is it too much to ask that items that cost public money to create be vetted before the fact?

    HT All Things Buffalo for the pix.