In one of his first articles on PoliticsNY, publisher Michael Caputo compared Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw to a "bull in a china shop". At the time I just snickered at the comparison. Mychajliw was the new guy. New guys bump into things.
A long-time reporter with no comptroller-like experience, Mychajliw did exactly what one would expect a bull in a china shop to do. He bounced off of one thing after another. He accused County Executive Mark Poloncarz's administration of faulty sales tax projections, when it was his political patron, Congressman Collins, and his own Deputy Comptroller, Greg Gach, that made those projections for the last budget. He cried the "sky is falling" over cash flow projections, when these ebbs and flows in cash flow are common and there are financial devices to deal with them.
After watching this story unfold since January, one thing is quite apparent to me: The Comptroller isn't here as much to be a watchdog of the taxpayer, as he is here to be a foil to County Executive Poloncarz. It's very clear that Mychajliw doesn't like Poloncarz. And the headlines that he creates are generally ones that make Mark Poloncarz look bad. Politics as usual in Erie County.
When the story broke about the FEMA audit that implied the disaster agency should recoup from Erie County $48 million relating to the October Surprise Storm, Mychajliw was miffed that the County Exec didn't tell him about the audit until after the Administration formulated a plan to address it. When Poloncarz invited the Comptroller to the presser announcing the county's response, Mychajliw Facebooked "This is exactly what the people we serve want from elected leaders: working together in a bi-partisan manner, in a unified front, to do what's best for Erie County taxpayers." Apparently, that, like much of downtown Buffalo, is one-way street. The Comptroller wants cooperation in his direction, but also wants to release the incendiary facts to the Buffalo News to froth up his base against the Democratic Administration.
The News only seems to print the audits about the union employees that get acupuncture and massage as part of their benefits, or the major cash flow crises. Or audits saying that more than 700 employees in Erie County "make over $100,000" per year, when that is actually the total cost of the employee with benefits and taxes. The word choice was clearly used to make people believe that salaries of over $100,000 per year are rampant in Erie County, when the actual number is 106. Quite a difference from 700.
Mychajliw's skill set is news, and it's becoming clear that he chooses his audits based on their ability to prove his political ideology over their necessity. Those are the stories that grab the headlines, where he made his first career.
Anyone who is not disturbed by his part in the Department of Social Services - "DocumentGate" - is clearly a partisan. Mychajliw uncovered a serious breach of security, and chose to first take those documents, and then hold them for about six weeks. I reached out to Mychajliw regarding the length of time it took between when he knew and when he spoke to the Buffalo News and he responded, "We believe there was nothing to report because the administration already knew about their own deficiencies, because they are the ones who pointed it out to us. If there is a disconnect between the administration's employees and what they report to the County Executive, those are questions his office needs to address."
If this poor security was truly "mind-blowing" as the Comptroller was quoted in a WBFO interview, why was it not addressed the minute he discovered it? The only reason is that he and his department needed to make a plan for the maximum political damage to the Department of Social Services and the County Exec. Both taking the documents, and holding them instead of correcting the problem immediately, are serious matters in their own right. If this doesn't break the law, the action certainly is an ethical question.
It's no secret that the relationship between Poloncarz and Mychajliw is frosty at best. The County Exec certainly didn't do himself any favors with his off the cuff remarks to Legislator Mills about making the Comptroller an appointed position. The Comptroller's response to Michael Caputo, at the end of the article, is equally as telling about his agenda. Mychajliw said, with a smile, Caputo reported, "If the County Executive thinks I'm irritating now, he ain't seen nothing yet, I'm just getting started."
That certainly tells me that the taxpayers aren't first on Mychajliw's priority list. Irritating and smearing the County Executive and promoting a political agenda are job number one. That certainly isn't "exactly what the people we serve want from elected leaders: working together in a bi-partisan manner, in a unified front, to do what's best for Erie County taxpayers."
I agree with Comptroller Mychajliw 100%; the storage and security of those records is a gross error. But if he cared about the tax payers and the clients of the Department of Social Services first, he would have run, not walked to the County Executive's office and handled the problem immediately.
I saw on Legislator Lynne Dixon's Facebook page that the minority caucus is calling hearings on the matter. I love hearings - particularly after the problem has been solved. Political theater at its best, and only intending to keep to keep the "crisis" in the news for a few more days.
Any serious investigation of the matter needs to ask the Comptroller why he didn't deal with it immediately. If that question isn't asked, it is just politics as usual for Erie County, and disappointing as always.