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Grand Jury Report Finds Management Problems at County Highway Division

By Mark Scott

Buffalo, NY – A grand jury probe into the highway division of the Erie County Public Works Department has uncovered numerous management problems and offers a series of recommendations for fixing them. This, after a former highway supervisor pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges that he used county equipment for private purposes.

A 119-page report on the grand jury's nine month investigation of the highway division includes some stunning revelations. In it, Public Works Commissioner Maria Lehman testified she did not have input in the hiring of her deputy commissioners. She said certain county employees had what appeared to be "diplomatic immunity" -- that is, they had a relationship with someone in the County Executive's office. She even stated to the grand jury that those workers could do basically what they wanted.

The grand jury also found deficiencies in the way allegations of wrong-doing were investigated. Instead of one thorough investigation, there were multiple probes that were incomplete.

And the grand jury uncovered labor relations problems in which union grievances began piling up against a highway division manager without anyone questioning that. The grand jury recommended that the labor relations department track grievances and submit annual or semi-annual reports to the county executive.

It recommends that the public works commissioner have input into the hiring of deputies. And it suggests that any past unwarranted disciplinary action against employees be rectified.

Erie County Executive Joel Giambra reacted to the report by saying it's "old news." In a written statement, Giambra said his administration contacted the Sheriff's office to conduct an investigation when he was made aware of the alleged wrongdoing. He said he terminated two deputy commissioners two years ago and that his administration has a zero tolerance policy toward the theft of taxpayers' money.

Wednesday, former highway supervisor Douglas Naylon pleaded guilty to two counts of unauthorized use of a county vehicle. He had used a county tractor trailer to transport a bulldozer to and from some private property he was developing. He faces up to two years in prison when he's sentenced in October.