Jack O'Donnell Says Patronage Jobs Will Be Cut At Erie County Water Authority

3:44 PM, Jul 24, 2010   |    comments
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BUFFALO, N.Y. - When you open up the patronage spigot at the Erie County Water Authority, well-connected, well-paid people come out.

* There's Ed Kuwik, the former Democratic Erie County legislator, he makes 106,000 as a Senior Distribution Engineer.

* Matt Baudo, the head of the Delaware District Democratic Club in Buffalo, makes $135,000 as the Secretary to the Authority's Director.

* Dan NeMoyer, the former Orchard Park Democratic Town Chairman, he makes $92,000 as the Director of Human Resources.

* John Kuryak, the former Democratic Mayor of Lackawanna who makes $91,00 a year plus overtime as a Distribution Engineer.

And the Water Authority is an equal opportunity employer when it comes to patronage.

Among the highly paid Republicans are:

* Robert Lichtenthal, a former Vice Chairman of the county Republican party, he makes $128,000 a year as the Deputy Director of the Authority.

* Tom Wik, the former Amherst Highway Superintendent who makes $91,000 a year, plus overtime, as a Distribution Engineer.

"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," says Jack O'Donnell, the newest Commissioner at the Water Authority.

He was appointed to a three year term by the legislature about two months ago, and for the first time in a very long time, O'Donnell was not the hand-picked choice of a party chairman.

In the past, the Republican and Democratic county party chairmen took turns recommending commissioners to the legislature, which in turn, would simply rubber- stamp those choices.

And that fact gave the party chairmen enormous influence over who was hired, for what positions, and at what salary at the Authority. Whether those jobs were needed or not.

But that mold was shattered this year with O'Donnell's appointment. Democratic party chairman Len Lenihan wanted former Cheektowaga Supervisor Frank Swiatek reappointed to another term, but a group of three Democratic legislators rejected Swiatek.

Instead, a coalition of six Republican and the three Democratic legislators, who have good relations with both County Executive Chris Collins and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, named O'Donnell.

O'Donnell, who's a lobbyist, says he's hoping to change things, really change things at the Authority.

Scott Brown: "You're a political guy, a consultant, close to Steve Pigeon, what if someone were to say 'well this is O'Donnell moving the other guy's people out so he can move his people in?'

Jack O'Donnell:"Well I think the first question we're asking is not about moving people out and other people in, it's 'does this job matter, do we need it, is there a way to combine two jobs into one and start saving money?' I think everything has to be on the table."

Scott Brown: "Do you think some salaries are too high over there?"

Jack O'Donnell: "I think you could probably say that there are some salaries that are too high over there."

Scott Brown: "Can you see between the salaries there and some of the people that aren't working very hard, cutting the budget?"

Jack O'Donnell: "I think we're going to have to cut the budget. We've got to find ways to do this cheaper. And whether that means eliminating individual positions, I think absolutely we can't keep asking people to pay more every year, we've got to find ways to do more with less. And I think in fairness, the authority started doing that over the last few years, but we've got a long way to go."

Scott Brown:"Would you be willing to take a cut in your pay ($22,500 per year) as maybe a way to show the way?"

Jack O'Donnell: "Scott, when I said everything needs to be on the table, I mean everything needs to be on the table. I think that starts with the benefits that the commissioners receive. I think it's incumbent upon us to lead by example and I'm certainly prepared to do that."

But in order to get anything done at the Water Authority, you need two to tango.

There are three commissioners, so O'Donnell would need one of the two others to join him to in order to cut jobs and spending.

One of those two is Kelly Vacco, the wife of former State Attorney General Dennis Vacco. She's the new chairwoman of the board and is a Republican.

Despite that, it's believed that she's more likely to work with O'Donnell than Democratic Commissioner Fran Wirthling, who is close to Democratic Chairman Len Lenihan.

County Executive Chris Collins has been a long time critic of the Authority's hiring and spending practices.

He supports what O'Donnell is trying to do.

Scott Brown:"Would you reach out to Kelly Vacco and urge her to make some of these reforms and changes?"

County Executive Collins: "Absolutely. I have not sat down and had that conversation with Kelly, but personally I think that's where her head is. As the new Chair, I would expect her to be involved with Jack on those measures.






























It seems like the politics, perhaps for the first time, have been somewhat lessened and even removed from that level."

O'Donnell has been going through the authority's budget, and the more he looks, the more questions he comes up with, including:

* Why the Authority, who already has a politically-connected public relations person on its staff is also paying $5,000 a month to an outside public relations agency?

* Why it's spending $20,000 a month in rent on offices at the Ellicott Square building?

* And why, if it's already paying over $200,000 a year to lawyers on its staff -- most of them politically connected -- why it's also paying to hire private attorneys?

Scott Brown:"If a lot of these changes take place that you're looking for, could you see rates going down for customers?"

Jack O'Donnell: "I hope so. To be honest I don't know how realistic that is, our number one goal is cutting costs.
























































































































































Will we ever actually be able to cut them? I don't know. But I think that has to be what we say internally and what we say everyday- can we cut them - that's got to be our goal."

Scott Brown: "For the skeptics out there who say 'I've heard this all before, it's great for lip service but nothing's going to change' what do you say?"

Jack O'Donnell: "I say we're going to change it, or we're going to go down trying."

Scott Brown: "Can we hold you to that?"

Jack O'Donnell: "Absolutely, I'd be happy to come back and talk to you in six months to see where we are."





































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