On Monday, December 12th, the Erie County Board of Ethics will meet to discuss whether allegations that Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz offered a “bribe” to Erie County Legislator Chairman John Mills should be referred to the district attorney for investigation. But since it’s a board beholden to Poloncarz meeting in a Poloncarz conference room, nobody’s expecting much.
In late September, Legislator Mills released a private voicemail left for him by Poloncarz on September 15. In a WIVB News story revealing the message, Poloncarz is heard asking for a little something before allotting $800,000 to repair a vital road in Mills’ district.
"As I said to you, I can do Boston-Springville Road, but I want a few commitments on a few things and then I'll sign over that stuff to get that road done," Poloncarz said.
When news of his voicemail broke, Poloncarz said, "That's horse trading. That happens all the time. For him to allege that there's a bribe or something like that, that's ridiculous. There’s nothing criminal; this is how government works: you exchange and you negotiate."
The panel will review the allegations on Monday, ultimately deciding if the issue should be referred to the District Attorney. In fact, there may be grounds for the Ethics Board to do exactly because it’s really none of their business. As Ethics Board chairman Steven Schwartz inquired at a recent meeting, since the issue at hand is bribery, "does that mean that we should be referring to this to the district attorney, since that would be a criminal matter and beyond our scope? I don’t know where to go with this."
But if you think justice will be served, think again.
The "watch dog" agency that, according to its Web site, "strives to promote faith and confidence of the people of Erie County in their public officials," is handpicked by, you guessed it, Mark Poloncarz.
In fact, some board members have close relatives working for Poloncarz as Managerial Confidentials, an employment classification that means they can be terminated at any time without reason, by guess again… Mark Poloncarz. For this reason alone, nobody expects the matter to ever see the light of day.
So, Poloncarz hand picks the board members and, for a few, employs their family. But even if a Poloncarz hand-picked board decides to refer a Mark Poloncarz bribery penalty to the District Attorney, don’t expect much: the DA will soon be John Flynn, who in 2016 was endorsed and campaigned for by… Mark Poloncarz.
In fact, Poloncarz personally donated a whopping $13,000 to Flynn's election campaign.
It’s highly unlikely that the board will even make a referral to the District Attorney, but insiders have speculated the board delayed the matter long enough to make sure incoming DA John Flynn would be ruling on it, as opposed to acting-DA Michael Flaherty - a gentleman most assuredly not in the Polonocarz camp.
Things couldn’t get any fishier, right? Wrong. As it turns out, the Monday board meeting will be held on the 16th floor of the Rath Building: Mark Poloncarz’s floor, in Poloncarz's conference room for his Office of Budget and Management.
So, don’t hold your breath for an ethical ruling out of the Erie County Ethics Board on the Poloncarz bribery allegations. The whole operation is wall-to-wall Poloncarz, because that’s the way it works in County Hall.