Erie County legislators approve hire for position critics say was inappropriately restored

Feb 18, 2021

Erie County Legislators have voted to restore a position within the Department of Social Services that comes with a hefty raise. Opponents of the hire say the County Executive overstepped his authority to bring back the position, while the Comptroller claims it’s a political patronage hire designed to create an upcoming candidacy for political office – the one he seeks next.

By a 6 to 5 vote, the Erie County Legislature has approved County Executive Mark Poloncarz’s restoration of a Special Assistant to the Social Services Commissioner. It returns a job that was eliminated last year, but now includes a nearly $20,000 raise that would bring the salary up to just under $100,000.

Credit WBFO file photo

Prior to the Erie County Legislature's full meeting Thursday morning, lawmakers held a joint caucus meeting during which Social Services Commissioner Marie Cannon defended the restored position. When asked what the new hire would do, she stated the individual would handle mostly day-to-day operations. Cannon added that with the state government imposing more responsibilities on county offices during the COVID pandemic, she needs help to get caught up with an increased workload.

“We have this housing, the COVID, the CARES Act funding, now we have some new treasury fund, all of that has to be managed, " she said. "And we can't, I can’t, my team can't continue to take on additional administrative work, management through the pandemic, without some help.”

Opponents of the hire say the individual is not working directly on the county's COVID response effort, thus it is not a position that County Executive Poloncarz can just create. Legislature Minority Leader Joseph Lorigo is among those arguing that Poloncarz overstepped his authority, creating a position that only the Legislature may do legally.

“What the county executive did here is illegal and not within his powers in the Charter, or the emergency authority given to him by this body," Lorigo said. "The job does not exist, as a matter of law. And the raise of $18,000 is insane at a time when people are out of work, and when this government has had to tighten its belt on virtually everything.”

Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw, who has long feuded with Poloncarz, wrote a letter to Legislature Chair April Baskin prior to Thursday's meetings, raising accusations that the county executive is pursuing a political patronage hire with the intent to possibly influence that person to run for political office.

Mychajliw, who is running for Hamburg Town Supervisor this fall, later issued a statement identifying the candidate for the Social Services job, suggesting Poloncarz is "bribing" the individual to run for that same political office.

"Is it really a coincidence the Erie County Legislature rams through this political patronage position on Thursday, and the Hamburg Democratic Party makes endorsements for Supervisor on Tuesday, February 23rd, 2021?" stated Mychajliw in a written message released under his campaign letterhead. "It sure looks like Mark Poloncarz is abusing public tax dollars to buy off a political appointee to get him to run for Hamburg Supervisor. If it looks like a bribe, sounds like a bribe, feels like a bribe, it is a bribe. This abusive political ploy is the ‘Friends and Family’ plan on steroids. It is a slap in the face to taxpayers."

While Mychajliw reveals a name in his campaign statement, WBFO attempted to contact the supposed candidate for the Social Services position but did not receive a reply.