Watchdog Groups: Dissolve Erie County Water Authority
Groups Agree with Buffalo News: Convert Authority to County Agency
Prominent watchdog groups back the Buffalo News’ call to convert the Erie County Water Authority to a more accountable county agency.
A scorching July 2018 review of the Water Authority by the New York State Authorities Budget Office (ABO) and accounts by investigative journalists paint a picture of an authority that has become a politicized patronage mill plagued by mismanagement and waste.
The ABO chastised the Water Authority Board for failing to exercise independent judgment and adequate due diligence in entering into an employment agreement with its Executive Director, granting extra vacation time to executives, and giving its Deputy Director a 36 percent raise. Board members even voted for resolutions they actually opposed. The ABO further criticized the Authority for its lack of transparency, including regularly violating the Open Meeting Law, ignoring and reflexively denying Freedom of Information requests, and deliberately failing to tell Erie County customers about pending increases in water bills so they could not potentially thwart them.
To its credit, the Erie County Water Authority has made recent improvements. All three board members serving during the period reviewed by the ABO have now been replaced. The Authority has improved its FOIL procedures, started audiocasting meetings and will soon overhaul its website and webcast its proceedings. The Authority appears to be conducting a real search for a new executive director.
Unfortunately, it is too little and too late. The Erie County Water Authority is still primarily a landing place for patronage hires from the political parties and is inherently less accountable than a county agency reporting to the county executive and legislature.
In New York State, public authorities have proliferated as opaque and unaccountable shadow governments. Authorities in New York State were created to circumvent constitutional and budgetary limits on debt and politically insulate elected officials from rate hikes for public services. Dissolution of politicized public authorities, government- affiliated nonprofits and their subsidiaries is long overdue. It’s high time we put government work back where it belongs: in a government agency. Beginning with the Erie County Water Authority is a good place to start.
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