Back in 2011, then-Erie County Executive Chris Collins was opposed to the creation of a special library taxing district. He publicly said he couldn’t support an expansion of government and he knew if the Buffalo and Erie County Library had their own taxing authority, Erie County taxpayers would certainly pay more.
He was right, and Mark Poloncarz agreed with him.
Then, the library administration turned up the heat on Collins in an election year, painting him as anti-library. He changed his position, taking the view that if the library became a separate entity, it would be good for the fiscal health of the county because it would no longer be a $22 million liability on the county balance sheet.
True, and cute, but it only publicly appeased the library. Behind the scenes, they were diving into politics.
Library emails PoliticsNY.net received in response to a FOIL request to the Erie County Comptroller confirm that, behind the scenes, Library Director Mary Jean Jakubowski was using taxpayer money to hedge her political bets. In fact, she was actively engaging the library's taxpayer funded "communications consultant" to help her resolve political issues - arguably an inappropriate use of taxpayer funds. Or maybe illegal.
Now that Jakubowski and her colleagues had neutralized Collins on the issue, the library turned to their consultant, Libby Post (center, here), to work on Collins' Democrat challenger, then-Erie County Comptroller Mark Poloncarz. In one e-mail, Post emphasized a teachers union leader's belief that Collins was just acting in his political best interest. She also referenced a conversation the union official had with Poloncarz, where he said he opposed the district but would spend more money on the library if elected.
In the Summer of 2011, the County Executive’s race was getting close. Jakubowski had already forced Collins to publicly endorse her plan to increase taxes on Erie County residents without representation, but there was a lingering concern Poloncarz could win. Knowing he opposed her plan, she needed a way to influence him. She used taxpayer resources to line up some endorsements and put Post on the case.
Lobbyist Post acknowledges in a July 21, 2011 e-mail to Mary Jean Jakubowski that she was "a little devious" in her attempts to cozy Poloncarz up to New York State Unified Teachers (NYSUT), the largest teacher’s union in state. She pulled NYSUT into in the heated political campaign by leaning on her contacts in the New York Library Association (NYLA).
Ultimately, NYSUT lent their support to Poloncarz, providing his campaign with funding and media campaigns. Specifically, NYSUT’s PAC Vote-COPE donated over $150,000 to the Erie County Democratic Committe in support of Poloncarz shortly after their library-arranged contact.
This e-mail exchange confirms that the Library Director and her taxpayer-funded consultant were acting in a manner that was disingenuous - and perhaps illegal. Is it proper for a taxpayer funded library official and a taxpayer funded consultant to enter the political arena and attempt to line up political support and endorsements for a candidate that may one day control their funding?
It will be difficult for Jakubowski to deny any political involvement. After all, it was her, in the July 27, 2011 email, who first brought up the idea of NYSUT and NYLA endorsing Poloncarz. Unfortunately for Post, they can't hide from PoliticsNY.net. And luckily for Erie County taxpayers, County Executive Poloncarz remains opposed to a new library tax district.
It is unclear why Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw left this out of his audit. Perhaps it didn’t fit the original scope. However, now it is time for the Erie County Legislature to do their job and find out why the library spent taxpayer dollars to lobby for tax hikes in a new district - and ginned up political activity in a close election.