Secession discussion in Erie County; the status quo Sheriff’s Office

I have long been a political junkie.  This means I spend a lot more time paying attention to politics – local, state, and national – than most folks.  I write this blog to share information and to offer my comments and opinions on what is happening.  Most times the things that are happening are not too dissimilar from the things that have happened before.  Every now and then, however, something comes along that is unique; like some towns in Erie County talking about “seceding” from the County.

It is hard to find any public subject these days that does not wander into raw politics.  The Covid pandemic has certainly spawned many crazy ideas, most of them designed to assist the political careers of people who do not have anything more constructive to offer the public.

With an assist from a politically ambitious attorney, the leadership of the towns of Marilla and Wales are talking secession.  Maybe Holland and Grand Island too?

Here are the main characters:

  • Earl Gingerich Jr., Supervisor, Town of Marilla.
  • Timothy Howard, Supervisor of the Town of Wales; former Erie County Sheriff; current clerk in the Sheriff’s office.
  • Todd Aldinger attorney who represented the Village of Williamsville in the masked mandate fight.  He is a protagonist in the local secession effort.  Aldinger has been an associate at more than one local law firm; the Buffalo News refers to him as a “showboat lawyer.”  He plans to run for Congress in the new 24th District against Chris Jacobs.

The current political discussion about secession began with the issue of whether masks should be required in public facilities in the county.  Fair enough.  There are many different opinions.  As far as enforcement is concerned, however, the governor and local elected officials have legal powers that give them the right to impose certain restrictions that in their judgment are in the best interests of public health and safety.  Exercising judgment about such matters is often unpopular, but sometimes that comes with being a good public servant.

State law would govern procedures for a town leaving one county to join another.  This is not a Fort Sumter situation.

If the leaders in the secession scheme had done their homework before opening their mouths, they would have recognized or learned that:

  • The towns receive a share of the county’s sales tax revenues.  In 2021 Marilla received $979,331 and Wales collected $749,000.  Those sums represent a substantial portion of the towns’ annual operating revenues.  Wyoming County, which is the county Marilla and Wales would like to join, does not share its sales tax proceeds with its towns. 
  • The towns also receive a portion of the county’s mortgage tax proceeds.  Marilla’s take in 2021: $179,000.
  • The school districts serving the towns receive a share of the Erie County’s sales tax, revenues that could be lost if the town seceded.
  • There are more than 100 lane miles of Erie County highways in Marilla and Wales. Responsibility for snowplowing and maintenance would switch to the town.
  • The Marilla Free Library would no longer be part of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library System.
  • The Towns of Marilla and Wales do not have police departments.  They rely for their public safety needs on the Erie County Sheriff’s Office.

What we have here is a classic case of shoot first, ask questions later.  It is not a smart move for an elected official.  A rational person might conclude that regardless of their concerns about masking and politics, any town that might actually secede from Erie County will be faced with substantially more local taxes when they join a different county.  Is some political PR worth the price of higher taxes for town residents?

For those of us who live in Erie County outside of Marilla and Wales there would be more sales tax and mortgage tax revenues coming to our local governments.  Some municipalities would benefit from more highway and sheriff patrol services that would be freed up if Marilla and/or Wales succeeded in leaving Erie County.  So should we say, “don’t go,” or “thank you?”

The Sheriff’s Office – meet the new boss, same as the old boss

A change in the management of the Erie County Sheriff’s Office occurred on January 1.  Aside from changing the name on the door, things appear to be operating pretty much the same.

As a candidate the new Sheriff, John Garcia, promised that the management of the office would change.  He needed to say that because the previous management of the sheriff’s office was not very good.  Thirty people died in the Holding Center and the Correctional Facility under the supervision and care of the previous sheriff.  The office was regularly in trouble with the State Department of Corrections.

The former Sheriff, Timothy Howard, made it clear that despite swearing an oath to follow the law he would choose what laws to enforce.  He found time for such things as providing honorary sheriff’s badges to friends and supporters that were occasionally used to request favorable treatment.  The Buffalo News suggested “[t]here’s nothing wrong with saluting citizens who go beyond to serve the public. Give them a dinner, a plaque or a proclamation, but the badges need to go.”

So how is the new guy doing?  He started by keeping most of Howard’s senior staff by the rearrangement of their positions.  He appointed as his assistant for the Professional Standards Division, the person who is charged with investigating any alleged misconduct among sheriff’s deputies, the department employee who had just served as head of the department’s road patrol deputies union.

Garcia then hired Howard as a $46,000 clerk to assist with pistol permit work and to offer counsel to Garcia.  Evidently a phone call or an occasional sharing of a cup of coffee was not enough to encourage the former sheriff to provide his knowledge of the workings of the department.  Howard got to keep a sheriff’s department car for while too.

Garcia is even continuing the tradition of handing out badges to favored folks, most recently at a birthday party for a long-time Republican leader.

On February 16th a political group, the 1791 Society, will hold a session at the VFW Post in Lackawanna to discuss the secession issue.  Reportedly among the speakers with be town supervisors.  Hmm.  So, will Erie County Sheriff’s Office employee Tim Howard be speaking about the possibility of the Town of Wales seceding from the county?  A couple fewer towns will diminish the role of the department’s road patrol division.  Does the current Sheriff, John Garcia, supports the secession idea? 

Vic Farley

Former Erie County Republican Chairman Victor Farley passed away last week.  In days gone by Vic played a leading role in the operations of the Republican-controlled State Senate.  Besides his work as a lawyer Vic also represented local clients as a lobbyist in Albany.

Vic was a fierce competitor but also a gentleman.  He recognized the value of civility in politics.  Rest in Peace Vic.

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