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Improper Release of Personal Information Has Politicians Bickering

3:50 PM, Jun 26, 2013   |    comments
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BUFFALO - Even when they agree, they disagree.

In May, Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw released a report revealing that the Department of Social Services had improperly disposed of personal records, including birth certificates, medical information and social security cards. Employees had left them in insecure areas, such as recycling bins on the curb where anybody walking by could have access to them.

Everybody agreed it was a problem-- most notably, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.

"I am not happy about this," Poloncarz told 2 On Your Side in May.

Poloncarz's administration now says it's fixed the problem and has taken the proper steps to secure personal information. Mychajliw agrees and says "that's wonderful."

So everybody's on the same page: there was a problem, it got fixed, and now it's time to move on. That was the message at the Erie County legislative hearing on Tuesday.

Except they're all still arguing. And it's getting ugly.

"Comptroller Mychajliw has destroyed the credibility of the comptroller's office," Poloncarz said shortly after the hearing, although he declined 2 On Your Side's request for a one-on-one interview later in the afternoon.

His administration is angry because it believes the comptroller's office improperly obtained personal records from the Department of Social Services during the auditing process. It even believes it has the video evidence to prove it. At the hearing, surveillance video was presented to the legislature from the basement of the Rath Building, showing a county employee leading Mychajliw's deputy comptroller into rooms where records were placed. At one point, the video shows the deputy comptroller leading the employee into the DSS room-- which Poloncarz said is a secured area that is not allowed for access. He called it a deceitful action on the part of the deputy comptroller.

That doesn't change the fact that the county had a problem on its hands with regard to personal records, but Poloncarz said he's "disappointed" in the actions of the comptroller's office and argues Erie County might have to pay heavy fines for the indiscretion.

Mychajliw has a different version of the story.

"All the doors were unlocked," Mychajliw said. "Any member of the public could have had access to that area."

Mychajliw accused Poloncarz of using a "smokescreen" to deflect the real issue of his county's leak of personal records.

"I am Mark Poloncarz's worst nightmare," Mychajliw said. "It's an election year. Mark Poloncarz does not want an independent watchdog in the office of comptroller."

Poloncarz, a Democrat, is the former comptroller for Erie County. Mychajliw is a Republican who took over in the technically impartisan comptroller's office six months ago.

If Mychajliw's office does not turn over the records it obtained from the Department of Social Services, Tobe threatened litigation.

If that lawsuit materializes, it means this issue may linger for quite some time.

"I demand the return of those records," Poloncarz said.

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