December 21, 2016

Grains of Salt (v18): Audits and Snowballs

Season's Greetings to one and all from Syracuse - the Salt City, the heart of Onondaga County -  where we know how to throw a snowball, a retirement incentive, and a great legislative meeting, I tell ya.

The snowball thing, that's obvious. I mean, we are the usual favorite to win the Golden Snowball trophy.

That retirement incentive, well, that's pretty obvious, too.

It doesn't seem possible it was all the way back in October that we first learned that the Onondaga County Legislature had somehow managed to include elected officials in the retirement incentive program designed to nudge a whole bunch of people into premature retirement to avoid as many as several hundred layoffs.

Our longest-serving county legislator, Kathy Rapp, announced she was retiring, with the incentive, a nice $10,000 of taxpayer money designed to save money, but that will actually cost us money, as we pay her the incentive and also pay her replacement, who will be appointed by OnJoanie Mahoney, our County Executive.

Rapp's last day was yesterday; she had a nice sendoff, got a plaque, and had the opportunity to give us some parting thoughts. She noted that "politics" is driving her out after 18 years. She liked the work, she said, but lamented that "trying to be right instead of doing what's best" seems to take precedence these days -- and the personalities, that too.

I wish her well in retirement, and hope she enjoys her two grandbabies. And I also just wish she hadn't taken the money. Because contrary to popular opinion, a politician is not obligated to take advantage of every opportunity that falls in their lap, any more than they're obligated to say, take LLC money if they think it's wrong that they're able to do so (our Sonofa Gov Andrew Cuomo) or to use campaign funds to buy steaks for people (DA-for-life Bill Fitzpatrick).

But she was right about the personalities, for sure, Which gets us to the throwing a legislative meeting I mentioned at the top of the post.
At a legislative meeting Friday, representatives from a pair of feuding county office showed just how hard it is to be in the same room with one another. What began as a presentation of financial data devolved into a shouting match during the meeting, belying long-simmer tensions between the county executive and the comptroller. 
Yes, the executive, the one who pretty much told us if we didn't like her ramming through her pay raise, we could vote her out.  And the comptroller, who filed a lawsuit over the raise. He won a procedural thing regarding the raise for the legislature, but lost the fight on Mahoney's own raise. It's been all down hill for a while now.

We all know how personally OnJoanie takes everything related to the Lakeview Amp, her pet project. Not a lot of people thought a seasonal concert venue, with several similarly sized competing venues up and down the Thruway, was a good idea for $50M in economic development funds  - but we were promised that it would work out. The first full year only making $150K seems a little low, but if the sales tax revenue and hotel room usage we heard about is true, we might do OK with it.

Is the comptroller wrong to question the finances of the Amp? Nope. Actually, he's right to ask where we might find the money owed to the county by the state for the 2015 Miranda Lambert concert, and where we might find the reports the county was supposed to have filed this year, per the legislature's request, or for a copy of the promoter's concert. Presumably he's asking for these in his official capacity as comptroller and guardian of county taxpayer dollars.

Could he find a better way to go about his mission to get, and audit, Amp financial activities? Sure thing. For one, there's that old adage about catching more flies with honey than with vinegar -- and Antonacci was practically spitting vinegar yesterday.

Maybe instead of doing that, he could challenge Mahoney to a snowball fight.