It’s not a done deal yet, but it sure looks like members of the Republican majority in the Niagara County Legislature are looking to slide one of their favored friends into a lucrative taxpayer-funded job as the county’s lead spokesperson.
It’s bad enough knowing politics are once again at play where the appointment of a $79,003 position is concerned.
It’s worse knowing one of two candidates in line for the post — and it would appear the most likely choice — is a felon who was wrapped up in arguably the most blatant example of public corruption in Western New York’s history.
We’re speaking, of course, about Kevin Schuler, the former LPCiminelli executive who accepted pleas to two counts of wire fraud for his role in the Buffalo Billions scandal which involved the rigging of bids for multi-million-dollar public construction contracts tied to the massive, $750 million SolarCity project in Buffalo.
Schuler is not yet the county’s new public information officer but he is one of two candidates scheduled to be interviewed today by an ad hoc committee of county lawmakers.
On the face of things, it sounds almost unbelievable to think elected officials would even consider a hiring like this.
But then, when you stop to realize it’s Niagara County and the Niagara County Legislature that’s involved, you begin to feel less surprised by it and have to remind yourself that this is the sort of sad, horrendous decision-making that has driven this community to exactly nowhere for decades now.
The idea that the Republicans, or any county representative for that matter, would consider allowing a felon convicted of any crime, much less crimes involving a public corruption scheme, to serve as the county’s main point of contact for the public and the press is, in a word, abhorrent.
It’s bad enough that the image of this community has been marred by dirty deals and backroom influence for decades now.
This sort of decision-making just reinforces the unfortunate perception that Niagara County is a backward, crooked place where only insiders with the right connections succeed. That perception tends to turn off potentially strong partners from the outside, investors with real money who might think of doing business here but who are not interested in doing things in the Tammany Hall manner the Republicans around here seem to prefer.
It’s important at this point to remind county taxpayers that the position of public information officer, the need of which is highly questionable to begin with, was most recently held by Douglas Hoover, who lost the gig amid an internal review of his decision to use county email to distribute the re-election announcement of Republican legislature Chairman Keith McNall in clear violation of county ethics rules.
Would it be wise to place Schuler, a highly connected and politically connected person who was for years involved in the highest levels of campaigning on the Republican side, into a position where it appears campaigning on taxpayer-time and with taxpayer resources may be part of the job?
To do so would be an affront to all things good government and a true slap in the face of every taxpayer who picks up the tab for county positions, the useless one of public information officer included.
But, then, sad to say, these same people or versions of them have been slapping you — the taxpayer — in the face again and again and again for a long time now and you — the voter — keeps putting them back into office.
So, as we ponder what might be the possibility of the most questionable hirings in the history of a county that leads the league in questionable hirings, we are left with just one lingering question: When are you, the taxpayer and the voter, going to say enough is enough with this type of nonsense?