ECWA leaders, citing "scheduling conflict," decline meeting sought by legislators

Mar 8, 2018

The chairman of the Erie County Legislature's Government Affairs Committee was hoping to hear directly from ECWA leaders Thursday and provide answers to questions including what some deem a "golden parachute" in the contract of its executive director. ECWA leaders, citing a "scheduling conflict," did not show up for Thursday's committee meeting.

Early Thursday morning, ECWA Chairman Robert Anderson forwarded a message to the Legislature, stating that due to a meeting scheduled at the same time, representatives could not be in attendance.

Members of the Erie County Water Authority's finance committee meet Thursday morning in downtown Buffalo. ECWA Chairman Robert Anderson, at center in the back row, explained that due to their own meetings, they could not attend an Erie County Legislature session, during which lawmakers hoped to ask questions about ECWA's operations, existence and the executive director's contract.
Credit Michael Mroziak, WBFO

During a break between meetings inside the Water Authority's downtown Buffalo headquarters Thursday morning, Anderson said he would be willing to sit face to face with lawmakers but the notice they received for that meeting was in too short of a period of time to make that possible Thursday.

"I received that information to go to the Legislature and give a report on some questions that they wanted to ask," Anderson said. "It was late in the day, Tuesday afternoon, that I got that. We have a schedule online that we can amend at times, but less than 48 hours doesn't give us enough time to let other people know what's going on." 

Patrick Burke, who chairs the Legislature's Government Affairs Committee, says there would have been plenty of questions.

"We would have asked them why they gave that contract away, what were the details of it and we would asked them more specifically how they plan to reform the water authority," Burke said. "I don't know if they even want to reform the Water Authority and they weren't here to answer those questions."

The contract Burke mentioned is that of the Water Authority's executive director, Earl Jann, by which he could be paid up to $400,000 if removed by office by Democrats, who now hold the majority in the Legislature and were scheduled Thursday afternoon to begin interviewing candidates for a commissioner's seat on the Water Authority.

Some call that payout a "golden parachute." Anderson took exception to that.

"I'm very disappointed in the golden parachute theory that's being thrown out there," he said. "It's corrupted its real interpretation of actually what that contract is about. This contract is a three-year contract. It protects the Erie County Water Authority and that's why we forwarded that contract."

Other questions Water Authority officials would have faced, Burke said, included the lack of a contract with the Western New York Brotherhood of Water Workers, who did have a representative in attendance at the Government Affairs Committee meeting.

"You have the guys in the ditches, in the blazing heat and the freezing cold, they're without a contract. But the guys at the top are taking care of themselves. I wanted them to answer that question," he said. 

The Water Authority has been reputed for years as a place of political patronage by both parties. Commissioners earn $22,000 annually. Burke, pointing out that the Legislature has authority over ECWA, would be willing to cut those salaries if it got ECWA leaders to cooperate and he held accountable.

The Government Affairs meeting came on the same day when the full legislature was scheduled to begin interviews of candidates to fill a commissioner's seat. The Buffalo News reported three applicants are under consideration.

Amherst lawyer and Democratic party contributor Mark Carney, according to a published report, is is considered a front-runner.