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Some Erie County lawmakers want to rollback county executive pandemic powers

While the county executive continues to wield more powers in a state of emergency with the ongoing pandemic, some county lawmakers say it's time to curb those powers

BUFFALO, N.Y. — While Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz continues to wield more powers in a state of emergency with the ongoing pandemic, some county lawmakers say it's time to curb those powers. 

Just as in Albany a couple of weeks ago with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the minority caucus of three Republicans and one Conservative Party member want to strip executive order abilities from the Erie County executive because they feel the COVID numbers are going down and the legislature must reclaim its power of checks and balances. But it won't be easy.

First off they are four against seven in voting power to do so, and it's not clear if any majority Democrats agree. Legislator Kevin Hardwick who did return our call said it's just too soon with the still lingering threat of COVID, but he was open to the discussion.  

These are their main points according to Minority Leader Joseph Lorigo, "We're about to get $178 million in additional federal aid. Before the county executive gets his hands on that money and spends it as he sees fit, the legislature needs to take back our power. We need to have a seat at the table and we need to deliberate about how that money is being spent."

Lorigo went on to say, "We're not alleging that the county executive abused his authority in any way. But we're saying that right now we need to get back to the table and allow people to have their representative voice, which is the legislature, make determinations on how their money is being spent."

They point to multi-million dollar renovations on some buildings and facilities, which may have COVID response connections. 

But Poloncarz contends his pandemic state of emergency powers actually come from state law as he noted, "The legislature has no power to affect that. So when I have to make a decision because Dr. Burstein comes in to my office or Danny Neaverth Jr. calls and says we need this - we have an issue - because we have to react immediately - I can do that under the powers provided to me by New York State."

Poloncarz added this about the legislature, "Last year they gave us the power to approve contracts that were $250,000 or less. Any contract that is more than $250,000 we have to go to the legislature."

Poloncarz also claims the full legislature technically only meets four days a month and it would be difficult for him to get their approval when time matters. Majority lawmakers may still decide if this rollback attempt gets anywhere.