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ECWA censured in 'damning' state review

New York State Authorities Budget Office

The state body that reviews public authorities has censured Erie County Water Authority commissioners who served during 2016 and 2017. It is also recommending that any commissioner who served then and still remains on the board be replaced by the County Legislature.

The state Authorities Budget Office says its believes the Water Authority "would be best served by new leadership that is more cognizant of its responsibilities, appropriately performs its board duties, implements and enforces its policies, and fosters an environment of transparency."

The censure comes in a Budget Office report on the Water Authority's operations, covering November 2017 through March of this year.

Responding to the report, Legislature Minority Leader Joe Lorigo (R-West Seneca) and Legislator Tom Loughran (D-Amherst) issued a joint statement:

“The Authorities Budget Office Report released today of the Erie County Water Authority is damning in every facet. We need to hit the reset button. The report shows the authority and the Commissioners in charge during the review have failed residents. Many changes are needed at the Water Authority. We agree with the recommendations of the report and believe Commissioner Schad should resign immediately.”

Schad is Amherst Democratic Party Chair. Republicans Karl Sinnet and Bob Anderson have already left the board.

"I think it's an opportunity for the Water Authority to clean house," Lorigo told WBFO. "There's beena number of issues with that authority for the past several years and I think it's time that they change things and shake things up - and I'm ready, willing and able to help with whatever they need."

Lorigo said he expects "strong pressure" from both parties in the Legislature because of this report.

"His time is up," Lorigo said. "Myself and Democratic Legislator Tom Loughgran have jointly called for Mr. Schad's resignation and I think, as a result of that, you'll see some movement."

Republican Michael Ranzenhofer, chair of the state Senate Authorities Committee and a former Erie County legislator, says leadership begins at the top and the Erie County Legislature bears some responsibility for the ECWA's troubles.

"Absolutely, I mean, the state Senate, the state has no power to appoint commissioners to that authority," Ranzenhofer said. "We have no input on who is selected and what the qualifications tthat they consider important. That is a local decision."

Ranzenhofer said among the ABO reports he has seen, this is "among the worst."

"There are some very good comments in there. There is certainly room for improvement," he said. "I would certainly hope that (the Legislature) holds the commissioners of the Erie County water Authority to a higher standard of accountability and transparency than what is reported in the Budget Ofice's report."

Ranzenhofer said he hopes the Legislature takes the report's "many good ideas to heart...so these types of activities are not repeated again."

The Budget Office says the Water Authority refused to provide certain requested documents, but found "board members are not meeting their fiduciary duty and have failed to act independently and with the duty  of loyalty and care to the organization required by Public Authorities Law."

The Budget Office also says "board members routinely approve resolutions and transactions without having adequate information upon which to base their decisions." Of 49 meetings during the review period, it found commissioners receive meeting packets only 29 times, but commissioners still voted on important matters.

Late Wednesday morning, the Erie County District Attorney's Office announced it is investigating the ECWA.

“Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn has reviewed the New York State Authorities Budget Office’s report on the Erie County Water Authority," the statement said. "DA Flynn has assigned this matter to the Assistant District Attorney in charge of the Special Investigations and Prosecutions (SIP) Bureau, a division within the Erie County District Attorney’s Office. This bureau investigates matters of public integrity. The prosecutors will be contacting the Authorities Budget Office and are opening an investigation into this matter. No one from the Authorities Budget Office has contacted the District Attorney’s Office alleging that any crimes have been committed.”