BUFFALO, NY - Two on Your Side has done several stories in the past regarding the Erie County Water Authority, and its reputation as a place rife with patronage jobs for politically connected appointees.
One story in particular featured then newly appointed Commissioner Jack O'Donnell who agreed with that assessment and expressed his thought that it needed to stop.
"We're operating under a model that's 50 years old, and part of that model is political deals and taking care of political friends," O'Donnell told reporter Scott Brown on June 23, 2010.
When Brown asked O'Donnell what he would say to skeptics who might consider his interest in changing things nothing more than "lip service", O'Donnell replied, "I'd say we're going to change that or we're going to go down trying." "Can we hold you to that?" asked Brown. "Absolutely, I'd be happy if you want to come back and talk to you in six months to see where we are."
O'Donnell was not at the Water Authority headquarters when we paid a visit there Thursday, nor had he (as of early Thursday evening) returned messages left for him there regarding our desire to ask him about the recent hiring of the younger brother of Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz by the Water Authority.
Robb Poloncarz was hired as a Contract Monitor at an annual salary of $55,132.
Water Authority Personnel Director Matthew Baudo initially told WGRZ-TV that he was too busy to appear on camera to answer questions regarding the hiring on Thursday, before later stating he would not answer questions at any time regarding the Poloncarz hire.
Baudo said the Authority would instead issue a statement which (as of Thursday evening) we had yet to receive.
"Our office reviewed the qualifications sent over from the Erie County Water Authority, and he (Robb Poloncarz) met the minimum qualifications for the position," said Erie County Personnel Commissioner John Greenan, who oversees Civil Service for the County, municipalities within it, and various government agencies, including the Water Authority.
In his position, Poloncarz would have duties including but not limited to monitoring the issuing of contracts and acquisition of property, making sure projects are progressing and complying with regulations, and monitoring regulatory rules for any changes which affect the business of supplying water.
Channel 2 pointed out to Greenan that on his page on the social networking site LinkedIn, Poloncarz had only listed being employed as a Chef at Wegmans Food Markets.
"We don't use people's LinkedIn web site to determine whether they meet the qualifications," said Greenan. "We review the paperwork submitted the appointing authority and that's what we review."
Asked if he could confirm whether Poloncarz had listed other jobs that might qualify him for this position, Greenan replied, "Yes there were...I don't have the paperwork with me so I can't tell you that without the paper work...I'd be happy to check it for you...absolutely."
Later, Greenan sent us an e-mail in which he stated:
"Mr. Poloncarz meets the minimum qualifications for the position as a result of his college education and his current work experience as well as contracting and purchasing experience he has with a former large employer."
But Greenan also indicated his belief that it would be illegal for him to reveal more specific information regarding where Poloncarz worked and what positions he held.
Through his spokesperson, County Executive Mark Poloncarz also declined to be interviewed.
"He doesn't control who gets hired there (at the Water Authority) and he doesn't control the process," said Poloncarz Spokesman Peter Anderson.
Asked if, because of the potential appearance of a conflict, the County Executive ever advised his brother to look for work elsewhere, Anderson replied, "I'm not going to put words in the County Executive's mouth about conversations he may or may not have had with his brother."
Asked further if Poloncarz is mindful of the potential perception among the public regarding is brother being hired by an agency with the political reputation of the Water Authority, Anderson said, "Sure he's mindful. But his brother is qualified for the job and the reality is if the man is qualified for the job then he can do the job."
According to Greenan, Robb Poloncarz was hired provisionally due in part to the fact that the State Civil Service Commission did not have a current test for the position. He added that the state will now create a test (within the next year) which Poloncarz will have to not only take, but also place among the top three applicants, in order to keep the job.
Two On Your Side will keep pressing Water Authority Commissioners to answer our questions, and we plan to be at their next scheduled meeting on September 6th.
Click on the video player to watch our story from Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Dooley O'Rourke.
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