Getz became the living embodiment of the proverbial political cockroach, capable of surviving a budget holocaust, intact. Of course, theres never just one cockroach.
As Plunkett of Tammany Hall famously stated, theres a distinction to be made between graft and honest graft. In this same spirit, Giambra vociferously defended his patronage system as being comprised of the best and brightest and, therefore, thoroughly legitimate, honest patronage.
The legal costs that the county has picked up in connection with the defense of some of Joels patronage stars, however, suggests that Joels patronage system has been less than honest. Perhaps the fault lies not in these stars, but in ourselves.
Aurora Garage Scandal Legal Costs
Last year, Giambra patronage appointee Douglas Naylon faced a grand jury investigation for his role in the Aurora Garage scandal. The scandal didnt seem to bother voters as Giambra won re-election to office handily. As an Erie County Highway Department district engineer, Naylon faced accusations of harassment, missing money and equipment, serial mismanagement, and a lack of accountability.
We hire only the best and brightest people, Giambra said after being questioned about his patronage hires by his opponent, Dan Ward.
As one of Giambras best and brightest, Naylon was extended the best private legal help that taxpayer funds could purchase. In a letter to County Legislator Al Debenedetti, County Attorney Fredrick Wolf pointed out that the county was bound to defend its employees in actions that fell within the scope of their duties and defended the action because it was clear to us that there is a potential of a conflict of interest which precluded our office from representing Mr. Naylon, we had no choice, as has been the case in a number of other matters, but to allow Mr. Naylon the opportunity to retain counsel of his choice at the expense of the county. Mr. Naylon opted to choose Lipsitz, Green et al.
In a debate with Giambra last year, Ward challenged the county executive to waive immunity for himself and his cronies in the Aurora scandal. Giambra scoffed, predicting full exoneration. Of course, one year has passed, and Naylon pled guilty to charges. Guess whos stuck with his legal bills? As Giambra said about the scandal recently, this is old news.
More Aurora Garage Scandal Legal Costs?!
While the Aurora garage scandal may be old news, perhaps voters were unaware that some of the lawsuits are just now coming to trial. One of the garage workers, Gerald Williams, has charged two other employees, Albert Coia and Christian Gerling, with harassment and assault. Since these employees were acting within the scope of their employment, were going to make the wild prediction that taxpayers will wind up paying the legal costs and damages once again. Joels friends and family plan might not be cheap but, then again, the crusade for true governmental reform never is, right? This, too, may be old news, but hey, its been a slow news week!
Furniture-gate: Fred Wolfs Legal Eagles Fly Again
At the risk of being redundant, we remind you that handing off county cases to politically connected law firms is old news in Buffalo.
Turning government accounts over to political cronies so that they can rachet up profits for themselves and the political machine is also a very old and well-respected way of doing the peoples business in Buffalo.
So when Buffalo Office Interiors, owned by Giambra fundraising buddy, James Spano, started to come under scrutiny for overcharging the county for office furniture, the solution to this little problem was painfully obvious. It amounted to another chance to give a government handout. This time Phillips, Lytle et al. was hired as a special outside counsel. Simply admitting that his right hand man had overcharged the county and refunding the money was unthinkable. It would have amounted to political suicide. It also would have wasted a perfectly legitimate opportunity to give another government handout.
Again, DeBenedetti requested details of the deal from Fred Wolf. In his response letter, Wolf reported that the firm was paid at a reduced rate of $185 per hour for work on the case. The cost to taxpayers was a mere $ 11,375. Michael Powers, who successfully argued in favor of a Seneca casino in downtown Buffalo, took the lions share of the money.
In the recent budget debate, Giambra was adamant that we can and will afford this kind of patronage, come hell or high water. If he is true to his word, Giambra has now passed the halfway point in his reign as county executive. If the recent defection of his lieutenant, Carl Calabrese, is any indication, his ability to command unquestioning support of his followers may now be waning as well.
Much has been made of Joels imperious leadership style, but our Joel as Caesar photo is strictly tongue in cheek. After all, Julius Caesar was fully aware of the moment that he crossed the Rubicon. Unfortunately for Erie County, voters were oblivious as well. In the course of this falls political theater season, a brand new celebrity emerged. The name of Joel Giambras eighty thousand dollar-a-year chauffeur and political patronage director, Victor Getz, was suddenly on everyones lips.