Erie County government has been quieter lately. Covid metrics have dropped dramatically. Preventive measures have been relaxed. The state of emergency in the county has ended. Stefan Mychajliw is no longer Comptroller. There is much to be thankful for.
The Covid matters and the term in office of Mychajliw are intertwined; the reason is that the former comptroller chose to link the pandemic issues to his job. It was not just that Mychajliw spoke out about the issues, which is his right. It is that his politicking while in office centered not on matters financial so much as matters cultural. He railed against vaccine mandates and mask-wearing mandates and regularly, constantly it seemed, used his public office and the attention it receives to promote a political agenda that does not factor into the County Charter defined role of the comptroller. He attempted to parlay that activity into election to other offices, first for Congress and then for Supervisor of the Town of Hamburg. He failed in both races.
Last November Erie County voters chose a new Comptroller, Kevin Hardwick, who prevailed despite an incredibly negative campaign run against him by then Mychajliw Deputy Lynne Dixon. Hardwick won by an eight percent margin. Voters were saying they had enough of a comptroller’s office where the culture was constantly political while the job called for something constantly financial.
Hardwick has been in office for just ten weeks, but he appears to have been spending his time doing the job he was elected to do. In that regard Hardwick last week released a Report on 4th Quarter 2021 Managerial Confidential Employee Overtime and Related Issues. The document provides information about the receipt of overtime pay by county management/confidential (MC) employees during the county’s state of emergency. It outlines a series of options for the County Legislature to consider for changes in county policy affecting those approximately 300 employees.
Most of the legislative and public discussion about the payment of overtime to the MC employees has centered around the income of county Health Commissioner, Dr. Gale Burstein. By dollar amount Dr. Burstein by far collected the most in overtime pay during the state of emergency. Sheriff Department employees as a group also received considerable overtime compensation. The overtime payments to MCs were linked to an interpretation of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, with the county in effect treating the MCs as hourly workers rather than salaried, thus entitling them to overtime compensation.
The reform suggestions that Hardwick has proposed include a policy that would return all or most of the affected employees to a salaried status. That means that they do not document the start and end of their workdays and further, they are not tied to a 40-hour work week. But it also means that they are not eligible for overtime pay.
County Executive Mark Poloncarz has indicated that he supports a review of the issue and possible changes in policy and payment. He suggests that the annual salaries of some of the affected employees should be reviewed to ensure that they are comparable to the pay of other management employees in or out of county government.
Hardwick’s report is a welcomed change from the politically charged work of the former comptroller. It’s government operating the way it should operate.
Fewer Democrats running on the Working Families Party line
The state’s four recognized political parties have made their endorsements for this year’s elections, which mainly center around the races for statewide office, Congress, and the State Legislature. Over the years the Conservative Party has generally followed the lead of the Republicans with their endorsements while the Working Families Party has frequently supported the nominees of the Democratic Party. This year the Working Families Party has gone their own way in endorsing their own candidates for governor and lieutenant governor rather than agreeing with the Democrats’ choices.
The Working Families Party has a practice of requiring a candidate seeking the party’s endorsement to complete a written application concerning public policy positions. The party says that it will take a candidate more than an hour to complete it. The application has in some cases created problems for Democratic candidates when it appears that the party’s positions on some issues such as police departments funding appear out of sync with public attitudes concerning such issues in particular districts.
There are thirteen state legislative districts that are either wholly or partially located in Erie County. The published endorsements of the Working Families Party indicate that just four local Democratic candidates for the State Legislature are endorsed by the Working Families Party in 2022 (Senators Tim Kennedy and Sean Ryan; Assemblymembers Jonathan Rivera and Bill Conrad). Not all districts have a Democratic Party nominee.
In the 2020 state legislative elections in Erie County seven Democrats had the Working Families line. In 2018 there were nine. In 2016 there were eight.
It may be that the party does not like the candidates the Democrats are putting up. It may be that the Democratic candidates see taking the party’s line as a negative in their election efforts. In any case the lack of Working Families support among Democratic state legislative candidates is a noticeable development that could have implications for the line-up of minor parties in the state going forward.
Legendary Buffalo attorney Jim Magavern passed away last week at the age of 89. Jim’s career included service as County Attorney, Counsel to the State Comptroller, and a myriad of other assignments over the course of more than six decades. He was widely respected as the go-to expert concerning municipal law.
Jim was intelligent, wise and a gentleman, someone who knew what he was talking about while offering information and advice in a professional and kind way. We could use a lot more Jim Magaverns in today’s world.
May he rest in peace.
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