Two Erie County lawmakers announced Tuesday a proposed resolution calling for the resignation or removal of the last remaining commissioner from the Erie County Water Authority who served during a period of time sharply criticized in a recently-released state report.
Jerome Schad, who now chairs the authority's board of commissioners, served on the panel during 2016 and 2017, the period of time during which the New York State Authorities Budget Office studied the authority's operations.
The report recently released by the Authorities Budget Office deemed the Erie County Water Authority lacking in operational transparency and unwilling to cooperate in requests for access to certain documents. The report recommended the immediate removal of all commissioners serving during the time of the study, including Schad.
Erie County Legislators Joseph Lorigo and Thomas Loughran, on Tuesday afternoon, announced the submission of a resolution they anticipate will be approved by the full Legislature at its Thursday afternoon session.
"I believe the Legislature, as a whole, supports reform at the Water Authority. We're looking toward a new day and restoring the ratepayers' trust in what the Water Authority does for Erie County residents," said Lorigo. "I think the first step in getting that trust back is to have Commissioner Schad resign, effective immediately."
Lorigo said lawmakers have already explored whether they have the power to remove Schad. He explained that according to Public Authorities law, the person or body that makes the appointment is the one that can remove the commissioner. It's unclear, he suggests, whether that is the Legislature chair or the full body.
He added the County Executive's office has also contacted the Authorities Budget Office to inquire who may have the power to remove a commissioner.
Poloncarz is indeed moving forward with his own response to the ABO's report on the Water Authority. He issued the following statement on his social media accounts Tuesday afternoon: "Today I joined staff and legal counsel on a conference call with Jeffrey Pearlman, Executive Director of the NYS Authorities Budget Office ('ABO'), and his staff to discuss his office's recent report on the Erie County Water Authority. Today's call followed previous discussions by my administration with ABO staff since the ABO issued its report on the Water Authority's issues of transparency. Based on these conversations, and additional research my office is currently conducting, I will soon be offering a set of reforms to ensure the Water Authority, an entity created in 1950, meets the standards expected of government today."
A source with the Poloncarz administration suggested to WBFO the hope is to announce those reforms within the next week.
In the meantime, options for reform under consideration by legislators include absorbing the Erie County Water Authority into Erie County government.
"I believe that to fold this into a county department... there would be more accountability, people coule be fired, elected officials that went along with it would be voted out of office," said Loughran.
By absorbing the Water Authority into Erie County government, however, the county would be taking on the authority's bonded debt, estimated by the State Comptroller's office at around $10 million last year, along with tens of millions of dollars of other liabilities.