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Newest Water Authority board member discusses improving transparency

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He was appointed in late July to sit on a board for an organization harshly criticized in a state report earlier this year. E. Thomas Jones attended his first Erie County Water Authority board meeting Thursday. He and his colleagues say they're taking steps to improve transparency. Jones would like that to include moving meeting out where customers have an easier time attending them.

Jones, an attorney and former bank executive, was approved 10-1 by Erie County Legislators, and in his first ECWA meeting was named the board's new treasurer (he abstained when the vote was called).

 

There was no need for a crash course on the business of the Water Authority.

"There are issues I've been dealing with, probably for the last 20 years when I was with the Town of Amherst, so they are familiar issues," Jones told WBFO in his ECWA office. "I didn't feel too out-of-place."

He was appointed to sit on a three-member board that, earlier this year, received harsh criticism by the New York State Authorities Budget Office in a report that blasted ECWA's administrative practices. Among the complaints lodged by the report was what the ABO judged to be inadequate transparency. 

Jones, along with fellow commissioners Jerome Schad and Mark Carney, covered multiple items that addressed improvements. Among the items approved was the commencement of the process to secure a contractor to install video and audio equipment at its current meeting space inside the Ellicott Square Building. 

Jones, however, suggests it's time to bring meetings out of ECWA's downtown Buffalo headquarters and into the suburbs. 

"I found, in some of my tours of the facilities I've had since appointed, that they have a large facility in the Town of Cheektowaga, which is where the ratepayers are," he said. "It's easily accessible. They don't have to pay for parking. And I think one of the key princples of the Open Meetings Law is to allow the public to come and observe the action of their authority."

He's not opposed to the idea of moving all ECWA operations out of the city, which has its own water system and administration.

Commissioners and staff also discussed language to define their search for a new executive director. Earl Jann was dismissed in June when his contract was voided. Deputy Director Robert Lichtenthal is considered a possible candidate for the position.

In the meantime, Jones says ECWA customers should be assured their service was never brought into question by the state.

"They're still getting good, clean, fresh water in a reliable manner," he told WBFO. "All of the issues that were outlined in the ABO report were of how the board itself operated. The administrative end of it did not affect the day-to-day end of the operations."

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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