Water Authority leaders tell county lawmakers of improvements to its operating culture

Oct 11, 2018

Months after the organization was harshly criticized by a state report for its administrative operations, leaders from the Erie County Water Authority went before a county legislature committee to offer an update on efforts to change its internal culture.

Thursday's appearance before the Erie County Legislature's Energy & Environment Committee came nearly four months after the New York State Authorities Budget Office issued the results of its review of Erie County Water Authority administrative practices. That report blasted ECWA for what it found to be a lack of transparency in its operations and recommended sweeping changes in leadership.

Erie County Water Authority chairman Jerome Schad (right) answers a question during an Erie County Legislature committee meeting Thursday. Seated at his side is ECWA commissioner E. Thomas Jones, one of two new commissioners appointed to the board earlier this year.
Credit Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Today, only one board member from the period during which ABO conducted its audit is still sitting, Jerome Schad, who chairs the board. He and other ECWA leaders told the legislature committee of changes already implemented, including updates to its Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request policies. Schad told lawmakers they currently have more than 30 FOIL requests pending. 

The Water Authority also hired a new public relations representative, E2 Communications, which is taking on tasks including an overhaul of the organization's website. A new website, according to the report submitted to lawmakers Thursday, is expected to roll out in early 2019.

Schad told WBFO following the meeting that many of the changes ECWA has made or is in the process of completing were of their own initiative and not necessarily required by ABO or state law.

"We post our budget and all this information a week ahead. That's not legally required. It is a recommended best practice from the ABO. We did it on day one," said Schad. "There's no law that says we have to have video cameras or we have to have an audio and post the audio. We've done that on our own. The audio is already in place. The video is coming."

The Erie County Water Authority, over the years, has been reputed as an institution rife in political patronage. The Authority is considering several candidates for its vacant executive director position and hopes they'll have a new person hired by the end of the year. Schad says the board worked slowly and carefully to word the job description so that candidates would be considered by credentials and not political connections.

Schad wouldn't offer many details about the current short list of candidates but did reveal some are from far outside of Western New York.

"My biggest concern is the perception of the Authority and our ability to provide some assurances to somebody to relocate," he said. "We're optimistic, because we have some out-of-state candidates among the final few candidates. I'm still a little bit nervous until we get to the end of this road."