Erie County

Erie County Comptroller Offers Hotline For Clerks To Report Undocumented Immigrants

An elected official in Western New York is offering county clerks and their employees across the state, a way to report undocumented immigrants who apply for driver’s licenses to federal authorities.

New York State’s new “Green Light” law which grants those licenses, also provides protections to make sure people in the country illegally don’t face deportation as a result. Attorney General Tish James, D, in a legal opinion earlier this week, pointed out the legislation prevents disclosure of Department of Motor Vehicles’ records to agencies that primarily enforce immigration laws.

However, Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw has offered his office’s Whistleblower Hotline, as a way for clerks to anonymously report those records.

“To preserve the integrity of our electoral process and protect law enforcement, I expanded my Whistleblower Hotline to provide a direct and anonymous tip to ICE from County Clerks or their employees who suspect an illegal alien has requested a driver’s license,” Mychajliw said. “The threat from Governor Cuomo to remove County Clerks from office is real. I’m simply providing them a tool to report illegal immigrants to federal law enforcement without the fear of being forcibly kicked out of office.”

The comptroller also personally extended the offer to Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns, a vocal critic of the law who has vowed not to process the licenses. We’ve reached out to Kearns for a response.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, D, offered his own response on social media Friday morning.

“For the record, when I was comptroller I created the Whistleblower Hotline as a way for citizens to report the waste, fraud and abuse of county resources,” he said. “This use of it by the comptroller is, in itself, an abuse of county resources.”

Poloncarz said if Mychajliw wants to create a hotline “to advance his own political ambition,” he should pay for it himself.

Former Erie County Executive Taking The Wheel At Taxi Company

From the Morning Memo:

At the peak of New York’s ride-hailing debate, former Republican Erie County Executive Joel Giambra provided his knowledge and expertise to Buffalo’s largest taxi company. And now he’s taking on a larger role.

In 2016, Giambra worked as a consultant for Liberty Cab, acting as a spokesman and advocating for a level playing field for traditional cab companies with ride-hailing heavyweights like Uber and Lyft.

In 2019, he’ll be leading the way in trying to help Liberty compete with those companies as the new chief operations officer of the company.

“I believe Joel Giambra, with his experience as a chief executive and in politics as well as in business development, brings the right credentials to his new position with Liberty,” founder and President Bill Yuhnke said. “I am looking forward to working with him and my daughter, Lisa, in the coming days. It is an exciting time.”

Yuhnke said that over the past several years, even as the market has changed with the introduction of ride-sharing, his company has been able to “hold its ground,” thanks to modernization and deregulation efforts. Giambra assisted with that battle, and said it needed to be waged.

“It was very difficult given the money and the political influence wielded by the technology companies,” he said. “But under Bill’s leadership, much has been accomplished and many of the regulations holding down the taxi industry in the city have been removed, helping to level the playing field. I hope to build on that forward momentum and continue to improve the ground transportation industry.”

Last year, Giambra, a Democrat-turned-Republican announced a rather quixotic campaign for governor of New York.

After failing to gain traction with the Republican party, he attempted a third-party bid with the Reform party, but ultimately it was GOP candidate Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess Conty executive, who secured the line, running unsuccessfully against Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the general election.

Giambra is also a staunch proponent for legalizing recreational marijuana, and has lobbied for legislation in the past. He currently owns a Buffalo real estate development company.

He said as COO of Liberty, he plans to pursue new business development opportunities and ways to improve the customer experience.

State Legislature Passes Bill Addressing ‘Golden Parachute’ Severance Packages

Legislation aimed at preventing public authorities from awarding “golden parachute” severance packages is heading to the governor’s desk.

Tuesday, the New York State Assembly passed the Severance Pay Limitation Act which limits the package allowable for at-will employees to no more than three months pay and ensured payments are not considered in calculating retirement packages.

Assemblywoman Monica Wallace, D-Lancaster, introduced the bill after reports last year showed the former Erie County Water Authority executive director’s contract guaranteed an estimated $300,000-$400,000 payout should he be forced out of his position for political reasons before his term ended in 2020. The news came less than two months after the authority raised its rates.

“As a ratepayer myself, I was angered by this news because it represents government at its worst,” Wallace said. “Erie County Water Authority customers expect that when their rates increase, the money will go toward addressing crumbling infrastructure and water quality improvements – not lucrative severance packages. I am glad that my colleagues in the Assembly and Senate have recognized the need to curtail future abuses, and I urge the governor to sign the legislation into law.”

ECWA fired Executive Director Earl Jann last year following a scathing report from the state authorities budget office which also criticized his “golden parachute.” Ultimately, the authority said Jann was not paid the severance as it was able to void his contract.

“Golden parachute severance packages might be appropriate in the private sector, but they have no place in a public authority whose mission is to provide a public service to its ratepayers in a fiscally responsible manner,” Wallace said.

The state Senate passed its legislation, sponsored by Leroy Comrie, D-St. Albans, earlier this year.

Erie Co. Clerk, Comptroller Join Forces Against Green Light Bill

From the Morning Memo:

The Erie County Comptroller’s Office will investigate the potential negative ramifications to the county if the state passes legislation to give driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.

The review comes at the request of County Clerk Mickey Kearns, a former Democratic assemblyman, who has been one of the most outspoken critics of the proposal. Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw, a Republican, said his office will look at the impact such an initiative might have on the county budget and potential cost of litigation – among other things.

“It is absolutely, positively unconscionable for out-of-touch politicians to ignore federal immigration laws to give illegal immigrants a ‘breeder document’ like a drivers license,” Mychajliw said. “It really does open up a Pandora’s Box.”

Kearns has maintained he will not process the licenses if the state Legislature passes the bill. He has cited numerous concerns, including his belief that the proposal is inconsistent with federal law. He’s also worried it could promote fraud, and would be taxing on clerks offices across New York.

“Unintended consequences that roll down from Albany, you know who pays for them? The Erie County taxpayers,” Kearns said. “So, taxpayers need to know to reach out to legislators, that there will be an unintended consequence, their tax bills will go up.”

The two elected officials promoted the investigation as a bipartisan effort, although it’s worth noting that Kearns won his seat with the Republican endorsement, and has been essentially excommunicated for the local Democratic committee.

Expecting the bill to pass, Kearns and Mychajliw also sent a letter to the governor imploring him to veto it when it reaches his desk, which is highly unlikely.

Erie County Dem Chair Believes NYGOP Is Misguided In Langworthy Choice

From the Morning Memo:

In a series of tweets Tuesday evening, Erie County Democratic Committee Chairman Jeremy Zellner characterized the state Republican Party as out of touch, for choosing his county counterpart to become the new state chairman. Nick Langworthy will become the new GOP boss in July, following the party’s reorganization meeting.

“This is obviously good news for Nick Langworthy, but it’s another sign that the New York State Republican Party is moving closer to President Trump and away from the mainstream,” Zellner tweeted.

Zellner first took his post with ECDC more than six years ago and has competed with Langworthy in Erie County since. He pointed out the Republican Chair has been one of President Donald Trump’s staunchest supporters in the state.

“Nick was one of the very 1st to endorse Trump, and he has supported him and his extremist agenda at every turn, whether it’s a trade war guaranteed to hurt WNY, tax cuts that burdened taxpayers, or the attempt to strip healthcare insurance from millions of Americans and NY’ers,” he wrote.

Zellner suggested bringing the party closer to Trump might be the wrong move for NYGOP. He pointed out in 2018, the first state Legislature election following the president’s win, Democrats took full control of both the Assembly and the Senate.

“Trump may be from NY, but he does not represent or stand up for NY or this community,” he wrote.

Zellner said Republicans will be reminded again next year, sidling up to Trump won’t help them win state elections.

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.