Erie County

Erie County Democratic Committee Lapsed On Workers Comp, Disability Coverage For Employees

The State of New York Workers’ Compensation Board placed a stop-work order on the entrance of Erie County Democratic Committee headquarters earlier this month, according to a source familiar with the situation.

The same person provided a photo of the notice, which was issued on April 3, just a day before the deadline to submit designated petitions. It’s one of the busiest times of the year for the party. According to the notice, the employer, ECDC, had failed to secure Workers’ Compensation coverage and had outstanding penalties for failing to secure both Workers’ Comp and Disability Benefits coverage.

According to state records, the committee’s Workers’ Comp policy through the State Insurance Fund was canceled on November 9, 2018. A new policy with Security National Insurance Co. began on April 4, a day after the stop-work order was issued.

ECDC attorney Margaret Murphy said the situation came about because a disgruntled former committee employee stopped opening mail at headquarters. The committee didn’t find out until after that employee had stopped working there.

Murphy said ECDC also was not aware its insurance had lapsed because it never got a notice and received a new policy premium of a little more than $1,000 in February. It paid that bill in March and she said the check cleared and came out of the committee account.

In total, there appears to be a 146-day lapse in which the committee’s two full-time employees and one part-time employee did not have coverage. Murphy said no employee was injured or filed a claim during that time.

The state requires employers to maintain a policy, with limited exceptions, and can impose fines of $2,000 for every ten-day period of non-compliance. The attorney for the Dems said the penalty they’re facing is not that harsh but is substantial for the party.

“It’s a shame because we could use that money a lot better to get a candidate elected than paying it to the State Insurance Fund,” Murphy said. “I am negotiating with the Workers’ Comp board to try to bring it down, but ultimately, we will pay what we are required.”

State records also indicate ECDC went without Disability Benefits Coverage and Paid Family Leave for more than five years. Its previous policy ended at the end of March 2014 and a new one did not begin until April 4, 2019 as well. The Workers’ Comp Board website notes there are more fines associated with failure to provide disability benefits, but it is also a misdemeanor.

Murphy said she is still investigating and doesn’t know all the details about that particular situation yet.

However, when it comes to Workers’ Comp, she said the committee immediately hired a payroll service and secured private coverage. Another local attorney who deals with workers’ comp and asked not to be named, said the board can negotiate with businesses when it comes to fines but is typically less lenient to repeat offenders.

It does appear the committee is a repeat offender. The State Insurance Fund policy lapsed once before, with the committee without coverage from October 2013 to June 2014.

In its most recent BOE filing in January, ECDC reported a more than $170,000 balance. It also shows the committee spent more than $10,000 while it was without Workers’ Comp coverage, including more than $6,000 on a holiday party.

Stop Work Order

Erie County Legislator Proposes Law To Address ‘Always On’ Microphones

Have you ever had a conversation in person with a friend, later to find an advertisement that seems specifically tailored to the subject you discussed?

It’s become a familiar scenario for many people and recent reports have confirmed, your phone and smart speaker devices are listening to you. Erie County Legislator Joe Lorigo, C, has introduced a local law to curb the practice.

The Internet Devices Privacy Act is aimed at protecting consumers from unknowingly having their private information recorded and stored. Lorigo said that’s typically the scenario with otherwise simple-to-set-up devices, like Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple products.

“Unfortunately, many people are unaware they are constantly being recorded by these popular devices,” he said. “With the rise in technology, this becomes a growing privacy concern. Once signed into effect, the law would force companies to be more transparent with consumers who often unknowingly submit to having their information recorded and stored. I am hoping we can have the necessary conversations at the Legislature in order to move forward with this measure to protect the public.”

The bill would require manufacturers to disclose that the microphone in the digital device would be turned on or enabled and what command or action triggers it. Companies would also have to disclose any sounds that trigger recording, the third parties to which the information gathered may be available, and the terms under which any personally identifiable information may be retained by a private entity.

Lorigo suggested the law be enforced by the Department of Weights and Measure or the new Consumer Protection Office proposed by County Executive Mark Poloncarz in his State of the County address. Fines would be $1,000 for first offense, $5,000 for the second, and no more than $10,000 for all other offenses afterward.

Of course, this issue isn’t exclusive to Erie County and to some extent has already drawn the attention of Congress.  A similar bill to Lorigo’s was recently introduced in the Illinois General Assembly, as well

Former Erie County Social Services Commissioner Sentenced To Five Years For Rape, Criminal Sex Act

Former Erie County Social Services Commissioner Al Dirschberger has been sentenced to five years in prison and ten years post-release supervision.

A jury in Albany County Supreme Court convicted him in March of rape and committing a criminal sex act. Both charges are Class E felonies.

The Albany County District Attorney’s office said Dirschberger engaged in sexual intercourse and oral sex with a woman who was known to him without consent. It happened in a hotel in Albany while the two were attending a conference in early December 2017.

The DA’s office said he has been in custody since the verdict and was continued on remand today. He will be sent to the State Department of Corrections.

A few weeks after the incident occurred, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said he learned of the allegations and asked Dirschberger to tender his resignation with the Department of Social Services. The County Legislature also retained independent council to investigate whether the county acted appropriately.

The county executive referred to the statement he made in March following the verdict.

“Today’s verdict confirms my administration took the correct course of action in performing an immediate investigation of the incident upon learning of it and asking for the defendant’s resignation after confirming that he had violated numerous Erie County policies. Independent counsel retained by the Legislature also confirmed that my administration acted quickly and appropriately in this case and cooperated fully with investigators and law enforcement as the case moved forward,” Poloncarz said then. “Additionally, it should be noted that Erie County declined to provide a defense or indemnity for the defendant upon learning of these charges as his actions did not fall within the scope of his public employment or duties. I do not tolerate any form of sexual misconduct, especially the abhorrent conduct in this case, and my thoughts are with the victim at this time.

Legislator Lynne Dixon, I, who is challenging Poloncarz for county executive, released a statement on the sentence.

“Today, former Social Services Commissioner Al Dirschberger got what he deserved,” she said,.  This story has bothered me for more than a year now.  The whole culture that allowed a Commissioner to invite a junior level staffer to a conference so he could prey on her is troubling.  Beyond troubling, is the finding in the Special Counsel’s report that the victim he raped had previously complained to management about his behavior toward her and it went unchecked. A grand jury of his peers indicted him, another jury convicted him, and now he knows his punishment.  It is my hope that his victim somehow finds peace, and my thoughts and prayers are with her and her family at this time as well as Mr. Dirschberger’s family.”

Dirschberger’s maximum sentence for the charges was eight years in state prison.

ECDC Names Replacement For County Leg Nomination

From the Morning Memo:

The Erie County Democratic Committee moved quickly to fill a vacancy made when County Legislature Chairman Peter Savage declined his nomination to seek re-election at the beginning of the week.

Of course, it didn’t have much of a choice, with a replacement due to be submitted by today. Last night, the committee chose Town of Tonawanda Council Member Lisa Chimera as the party’s endorsed candidate.

The committee solicited applications this week, but ultimately Chimera was the only person to make a presentation.

“The duly elected 3rd District @ecdems members voted to unanimously endorse Councilmember Lisa Chimera tonight ECDC Chairman Jeremy Zellner tweeted. I am excited to have such a wonderful community minded candidate as our Endorsed Dem!”

Former state Senate candidate Amber Small was considered a front runner to replace Savage, but she announced yesterday that she had pulled herself out of the running.

Small said she didn’t need to be in public office to focus on public service.

“As a committee member in North Buffalo, I helped pass petitions for our slate of candidates this spring: including Legislator Peter Savage,” she said. “At that time many reached out to me about running for office. However, with recently opening a small business and pursuing my law degree, I simply did not have the time earlier this year, and that has not changed.”

Two other Democratic candidates, David Amoia and Cindi McEachon, also petitioned for the 3rd District, making it likely there will be a primary. Savage is reportedly seeking a city judge appointment.

Erie County Legislator Urges Sheriff To Continue Releasing Mug Shots

Erie County Legislator Minority Leader Joe Lorigo, C, has sent a letter to the Erie County Sheriff, asking him to continue to release mug shots to the press and public.

The state Legislature passed a new law as part of the budget, prohibiting the release of booking photos unless there is a specific law enforcement reason to do so. However, discretion on what that reason might be, appears to remain in the purview of police agencies.

Sheriff Tim Howard, R, has not yet commented publicly about his stance on the new rules. Lorigo cited an Oneonta Daily Star article though, in which other Upstate sheriffs have said they plan to continue with the same policies they have always practiced.

“Preventing media and the public from having access to mug shots is a clear infringement on First Amendment rights. This practice should remain at the Sheriff’s discretion and considered on a case by case basis. I’m urging Sheriff Howard to continue releasing mug shot photos, as they are public information that often helps in the apprehension of criminals and protection of the public,” Lorigo said.

The law is due for action by the governor this week. New York State Police have already preemptively begun withholding mugshots.

‘Placeholders’ – A Theme In Erie County This Election Cycle

From the Morning Memo:

In Erie County, it seems clear that the advanced timeline for the election petition process this year had an impact on how the local parties did business.

In January, the state Legislature voted to move primaries from September to June in order to coincide with the federal election schedule. That moved the dates to collect signatures up from the summer to February.

“We were forced to take our recruitment period from three months to three weeks, and in some cases, we did have to put placeholders on the ballot, and things, by the end of this week, will be shaking out with the actual candidates coming forward,” said Erie County Republican Committee Chairman Nick Langworthy.

The Board of Elections has seen a slew of declinations this week. Assuming the petitions for those candidates are authorized as sufficient, committees to fill vacancies will be able to substitute new candidates by the end of the week.

In some cases, the candidates who declined were not intentional placeholders. Democrats had a number of high-profile declinations – including the chairman of the Erie County Legislature, Peter Savage.

Democratic Party Chairman Jeremy Zellner said the party fully expected Savage to run until late last week. The same was the case with several other races.

However Zellner said the party did put a placeholder of sorts in one of its Legislature districts as a byproduct of the accelerated schedule.

“We didn’t have a candidate so one of our committee members from the Town of Concord. Jerome Janik said he would make the run if we couldn’t find anyone else to because he felt as though we shouldn’t let the seat go uncontested,” he said.

Zellner said a candidate did come forward, and Janik declined, to clear the path for the new candidate. Langworthy believes that given the challenges his committee faced, he did a good job making sure the GOP had candidates for the 150+ offices on ballots this year. But there is a downside to the placeholder method.

“I’d rather have the candidate out there, carrying their own petition, asking supporters for a signature,” Langworthy said. “In this case, we went into survival mode.”

The GOP chair, who has been traveling New York and is believed to be eyeing a potential run for state GOP chair, said that he has heard from members of both parties across upstate who struggled with the new schedule this year. He believes the burden did not have to be thrust upon committees and boards of election all at once.

No Decision On Paper Bag Fee Yet For Erie County

New York State’s new grocery bag regulations not only ban single-use plastic bags but also allow counties to opt into a five cent fee on paper bags.

If counties do take part in the program, two cents will be returned to them to purchase reusable bags for local shoppers. The other three cents of the fee will go toward a state environmental fund.

“What the fee is to do is to dissuade people from actually using paper,” Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, D, said. “There are other food grocery stores that already prohibit it, plastic bags and they charge a nickel or a dime for paper bags.”

Poloncarz is a proponent of the plastic bag ban and, in fact, proposed similar legislation in Erie County several years ago. He said he’s also been on record supporting policy like the plastic bag fee, especially with money going toward reusable bags.

However, the county executive will not say definitively whether the county will opt in.

“I’d consider it, I just want to take a look and see what the language of the law is,” he said.

Poloncarz said he’s not sure if its a decision he can make unilaterally or if the County Legislature needs to approve the paper bag fee. If it’s the latter, he believes it’s premature to comment.

The minority caucus in the Legislature has already introduced a resolution against the “opt in” provision.

“This tax would hurt the many people of Erie County who are already working hard to make ends meet. Instead of imposing an additional tax for the use of paper bags, we should encourage voluntary participation in the use of re-usable bags and recycling efforts,” said Legislator Lynne Dixon, I, who is running against Poloncarz for county executive.

Minority Leader Joe Lorigo said the decision is the Legislature’s to make and he will be voting no. He called it a “money-grabbing tax attempt.”

Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo, R, has already promised Monroe County will not participate.

Erie County Executive, GOP Spar Over Handicapped Parking Incident

The Erie County Republican Committee is criticizing County Executive Mark Poloncarz after his detail apparently parked in handicap spots at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery prior to his Wednesday State of the County address.

Poloncarz acknowledged and apologized for the situation on Twitter after someone wrote that a handicapped woman with Alzheimer’s Disease was not able to park.


However, the GOP found the similarities between this incident and another with then-County Executive Chris Collins eight years ago.

Poloncarz’s then-campaign spokesperson, Peter Anderson, admonished Collins for parking in a handicapped spot at a local high school during a parade in Akron. In fact the party, said it was so similar, it simply updated the old press release.

“In keeping with his record of arrogance and disregard for the rules, Mark Poloncarz Chris Collins presumably reached a new low in conduct recently when he parked his car in a handicapped parking spot at the Albright Knox Art Gallery during operational hours a local high school prior to a speech and political fundraiser he was hosting summer parade.”

Anderson, now a spokesperson for the administration said the “non-issue” was being deliberately cooked up by people who deliberately misrepresent the truth. He pointed out Poloncarz apologized while he did not believe Collins ever did.


Ultimately, he said there’s no comparison between the two situations though.

“As you’ll recall, Collins drove his own vehicle to a parade in Akron, and then deliberately parked his vehicle in a clearly-marked handicapped spot so he could force his way to the front of a parade; he remained parked in that handicapped spot for the duration of the parade as well,” Anderson said. “On Tuesday, the County Executive’s detail inadvertently and briefly parked in front of a sidewalk ramp at the AKAG (NOT a clearly marked handicapped spot) and moved the vehicle immediately upon being told of the issue.”

Poloncarz is running for county executive again this year. His Republican-endorsed opponent is Erie County Legislator Lynn Dixon who is a registered member of the Independence Party.

Erie County Executive Not In Favor Of Making Tax Cap Permanent

When the governor’s office sent out a press release yesterday with quotes from county executives across New York in favor of his plan to make the state’s tax cap permanent, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, D, was conspicuously missing.

Today, Poloncarz said he is, in fact, not in favor of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal. The county executive is typically a Cuomo ally and was appearing at an announcement with him in Buffalo.

“We don’t have to agree on everything and I think that’s an example where I would like to see it being a strict two percent but that’s not exactly what it is today and not what the law would be in the future,” he said.

Poloncarz said the problem is the so-called two percent tax cap on property tax levy growth for local governments is not strictly a two percent cap, which he would support. Instead it is either two percent or the Consumer Price Index, whichever is lower.

“There have been years in which it has not been two percent. It’s been the CPI which has been .5 and .6. If it was two percent I’d 100 percent support it but the CPI sometimes is a problem. We have increasing costs on an average basis of two to three percent,” Poloncarz said. “So to go and say I’m going to reduce my revenue below what my increasing costs are by an arbitrary number is a problem.”

Regardless, he said the county has regularly stayed under the cap. However, he said the majority of property taxes comes from school and special districts which often vote to override the cap.

He is pushing those districts to share more services.

Erie Co Legislature Reappoints Embattled Water Board Commissioner

From The Morning Memo:

The chairman of the Erie County Water Authority board has been appointed to another three-year term.

The move represents a reversal for the Erie County Legislature, which called for Jerome Schad’s resignation just last summer. That resolution, passed in June by a 6-5 vote, was in response to a scathing state Authorities Budget Office report that criticized the ECWA for a lack of transparency and recommended the removal of all commissioners who served in 2016 and 2017.

Schad was the only commissioner still serving from that time period.

However, several things have changed over the last eight months. Republican Legislator Kevin Hardwick, who voted in favor of the resolution last summer, has since decided to caucus with Democrats in the Legislature. This time around, he cast the swing vote for the chairman’s reappointment.

The water authority, meanwhile, has taken steps to correct the criticisms from the ABO report, including more timely public access to its agenda. Schad has promised more changes as well.

Legislature Chairman Peter Savage said he’s been satisfied by these steps.

“So, we’re talking about commissioners,” he said. “Their chief responsibility is to manage the policies and with this administration with Mr. Carney and Mr. Schad, now have an Open Meeting Law policy.”

However, the Buffalo Niagara Coalition for Open Government actually criticized the process for the commissioner’s reappointment, which drew only one other applicant. It called for an extension so the opening could be publicized more – something the Legislature’s minority caucus supported.

But the proposal for a 45-day postponement failed.

We talk a lot in the body about reforms and changing the culture over there, but when we have the opportunity to take substance over action, we fail. I’m disappointed. I was hopeful we could get some additional support to actually have some reforms,” Minority Leader Joe Lorigo said.

The minority caucus also proposed to eliminate the commissioner’s $22,500 annual stipend, but that, too, was voted down.