Politics can be a dirty business and so it was at Tuesday's, February 11th, Erie County Council meeting. In this Republic, we elect people to represent large groups of people as it is more convenient and efficient than having all of us trying to run our society. The responsibility of elected officials is to make decisions based on the wants and needs of their constituents, not on what they think is best. That is arrogance.
What has led us to this point is complicated and has taken place over a long period. The culture of appointing individuals to boards and authorities is seriously flawed. We must stop naming the same friends, relatives, and political allies to boards and authorities in this community. Sustaining this flawed culture only continues to produce the same perspectives, ideas and perceptions while encouraging the cronyism that is stagnating this County. All one has to do is look at the membership on local boards and authorities to see the same names repeatedly. And when people look closer they will see relatives and friends in political power. This situation contributes to the lack of transparency in government.
What about transparency? At a time when this country cries for transparency in government, our elected officials ignored an opportunity for transparency. Word of a satisfactory PILOT arrangement surfaced that would permit one councilman to vote yes. All but two jumped on board to embrace this solution. It seems $65,000 is a satisfactory amount, but this is no payment in lieu of taxes. It is only going to the County! This was an outright buyout that swayed two councilmen's votes. Strangely silent were the City Councilmembers who vocalized their opposition to the hotel during their campaigns last year. What caused their silence is unknown to all of us. Also absent were the voices of the Erie School Board who previously voiced opposition. With the participation and approval of the Mayor, the City, and School District will get nothing. Secretive meetings and back door negotiations. No transparency here.
How will County Council ensure transparency when the entire deal comes to fruition? A step in that direction could be similar to Councilman Leone's stated abstention in voting to approve the hotel guarantee due to a possible conflict of interest. Authority members Richards (bond counsel for the State), Mosco's employer, PNC, and Sinnott's law firm, Marnen Mioduszweski Bordonaro & Sinnott, should not be permitted to participate directly or indirectly with any financing or bond issues used in this deal. To allow any participation by these members or any others associated with the Authority would constitute at least a perception of a conflict of interest if not an actual conflict. Involvement by either entity would further sour the whole transaction.
Of course there is the issue of "free money" from the state or as some have termed it, the Governor's attempt to ensure his re-election to a second term. When money like this is dangled in front of government bodies, no one wants to say no. All kinds of reasons were given to justify guaranteeing the financing from "the Governor would be insulted" to "if we don't accept it, the money will go somewhere else." But should these funds be used to compete with private enterprise or should they be used to spur private development, lure new industry, help rebuild neighborhoods, assist cash strapped school districts or supplement struggling cities? Several polls showed a clear majority of this county did not want their tax money used to build another hotel run by a government affiliated authority. They were very clear on this but were ultimately ignored.
I am sure there were other factors involved in this issue. But at the end of the day, the citizens of Erie County were snubbed by Council. We were told we didn't -- or couldn't -- know what is best for us. When it comes to many legislators, our opinions are inconsequential. Voters become disillusioned and apathetic while special interest groups, and those they can influence, thrive and continue to get their legislative friends re-elected.
Sincerely, Philip Temple
[Editor's Note: Previously Mr. Temple wrote "Knox Firm," and not "Marnen Mioduszweski Bordonaro & Sinnott," which has been corrected. Mayor Joe Sinnott is not employed by Knox McLaughlin Gornall & Sennett, P.C. His biography, containing his previous employment, can be accessed here and his Wikipedia page here.]