BUFFALO, N.Y. - When friends and family members of the politically well-connected have been hired at the Erie County Water Authority over the last 16 years, Bob Mendez was right at the center of things.
Mendez, the Authority's long-time executive director, is being forced out of the authority by its three commissioners.
Although the commissioners wouldn't give any specific reasons as to why Mendez is being ousted, a source close to the situation tells 2 On Your Side's Scott Brown that it was because of the politics that permeates the authority.
But it's important to note that often times, Mendez was hiring people who came at the direct recommendation of the Erie County Republican and Democratic party chairman and the Water Authority commissioners themselves.
That's something we asked Republican Commissioner Earl Jann about.
Scott Brown: "The hiring here (at the authority) has been so political over the years, is Bob Mendez taking the fall for those hires that often times come from commissioners or party chairmen?"
Republican Commissioner Earl Jann: "I don't think so, no I don't think that was involved at all."
Under a deal negotiated with the commissioners, Mendez, whose $154,000 a year contract is expiring this week, will stay on for another six months.
That was important to Mendez because it gets him to 30 years in the state retirement system, and it means once he leaves the authority, the 55 year old Mendez can immediately start collecting his state pension without any penalties.
In turn, Mendez gave up an additional six months salary that he would have been entitled to under his contract, as well as free lifetime health care. Instead Mendez will contribute 15% of his health care costs, as other water authority retirees do.
The Authority will now begin the search for a new executive director.
Scott Brown: "How much of a role with the political party chairmen have in this process?"
Republican Commissioner Earl Jann: "As far as I'm concerned none. I'm interested in the ratepayers and getting the best possible person to run the Erie County Water Authority."
But on the very day Jann made those comments, the political hiring continued at the authority.
At its meeting on Tuesday, the authority hired Tim Gallagher as a part-time attorney who will make $100 an hour.
Gallagher is the son of Ray Gallagher, a former state senator and county legislator who has been active for decades in Democratic and Conservative party politics.
Scott Brown: "The hiring here has been so political over the years, is Bob Mendez taking the fall for those hires that often times come from commissioners or party chairmen?"
Republican Commissioner Earl Jann: "I don't think so, no I don't think that was involved at all. I cannot emphasize enough that we are a public utility and we are going to run this place properly and with correct management."
Scott Brown: "Are you saying that it's going to be a change from the way it has been run?"
Republican Commissioner Earl Jann: "I can't speak to the far past, I really don't know but I'm telling you the way it will be."
But the pledge to change the way the Water Authority operates - at the same meeting the commissioners approved a deal to get rid of Mendez, they hired a part-time attorney, Tim Gallagher. Gallagher's father is Ray Gallagher, a former state senator and county legislator who has long been active in Democratic and Conservative party politics.