The Erie County Water Authority is not a bad place to work, and the work can be had if you have the right political connections at the right time. Never mind your experience with water. What’s important is not what you know about water, but who you know in the political world.
There are 235 employees currently on board to keep the water running in Erie County outside of Buffalo, and a former commissioner told Ch. 2’s Scott Brown last year that if the three political appointees who serve as commissioners wanted to reduce the huge payroll—which might translate into lower water rates for the authority’s 165,000 customers---they could probably cut about 20 percent of the workforce and the water would still flow. Imagine that!
The three commissioners, who take care of the political appointments for the two major party chairmen, make $22,500 in their perches and we’ll have more on them in coming weeks, but the big numbers belong to the well-connected, handpicked appointees, many of them making well over $100,000 a year. Some of them actually may know something about water operations as somebody has to keep the water running, but many of them have no water experience at all and it seems to matter little. A job listing in a recent Freedom of Information Law request of the water authority payroll has a utility worker making $48,422 and a water treatment operator at $52,873. Not bad, if you can get it, for who knows what?
The most recent political appointment raised some eyebrows, but nonetheless a Republican lawyer from Albany, Joseph Burns, is now the $132,756 deputy administrative director, replacing Democrat Matthew
Baudo who has been at the authority for 19 years courtesy of former Mayor Anthony Masiello and is still there, given a soft landing at $126,750 as a deputy to help Burns find his way around. That’s the way it works between the parties at the patronage pit that is the water authority where rate customers pay an average bill of $272 a year to help support a budget that tops $65 million.
Let’s take a look at just a few other top-paying jobs at the authority. Scott Aiple, electrical engineer, $111,789.60; Steven D’Amico, business office manager, $105,399.84; James Ehrin, senior distribution engineer, $122,256.16; Wesley Dust, executive engineer, $158,687.36; Robert Lichtenthal, Jr., deputy director, $147,573.92; Terrence McCracken (former legislator), director of employee relations, $105,978.08; Jay Meyers, production engineer, $110.011.20; Paul Reister, director of administration, $138,399.04; Karen Prendergast, comptroller, $131,526,72; Susan Rinaldo, cash manager, $114,876.32; Paul Whittam, director of drinking water quality, $122,256.16.
Republicans and Democrats share the wealth at the Water Authority, and right now the Republicans are running the ship and get the bigger spoils as evidenced by the Burns hire as Burns is a long-time friend and associate of Republican County Chairman Nick Langworthy who denied having any role in the appointment of Burns to the $132,000-plus position.
We will be taking a closer look at the Erie County Water Authority in coming weeks to help shed some light on the inner workings of the independent authority and the political connections that make working there possible for the politically connected.
As one political observer noted, “they must have people stumbling over each other there…how many people to do essentially HR/personnel function? Evidently, the Erie County Water Authority wants redundancy, so in case anyone goes down, they have plenty of replacements.”