What do you give an appointed Niagara County employee who committed a clear ethics violation by using the county email system to distribute the private campaign announcement of a sitting member of the legislature?
In Niagara County government, where elected and appointed officials routinely abuse their positions with little to no fear of reprisals from local law enforcement, the district attorney's office, the courts or members of the public they are hired to represent, the answer is, of course, a raise!
As was first reported in this newspaper, the county's proposed 2020 budget includes a 13.5 percent increase in pay for the controversial position of public information officer.
As has previously been reported, the position is currently held by Douglas Hoover, whose distribution of outgoing Republican county legislature Chairman Keith McNall's campaign re-election announcement on county time using county resources has led to a formal review of his actions by the county's board of ethics.
The proposed county spending plan calls for the salary for the position to be raised 13.5 from the $69,596 Hoover is making now to $79,003 next year.
In a community where many private-sector employees will forego raises of any kind this year, a salary boost of this nature for a position of this nature is, in a word, unconscionable.
Minority Leader Dennis Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, used a different word to describe the raise. He called it “ridiculous” in light of the 2 percent pay increases planned for the non-political positions in the county budget next year.
“He was incompetent this year,” Virtuoso said. “We’re going to reward incompetence with a raise?”
Virtuoso has for years now rightly argued that this position isn't needed at all and should be removed from the annual budget entirely.
The Republican-led majority created the public information officer job in 2008 ostensibly to provide information to the public and the press as the name of the job implies.
In reality, the vast majority of releases issued by the office over the course of Hoover's tenure — nearly 70 in all — have either directly quoted or mentioned members of the GOP, with just two quoting Democrats.
Concerns have been raised in the past about the potential for this position to be compromised to the point where it could be used more as a tool for political ambitions than a way to provide valuable information to members of the public and the press.
The use of county resources to distribute McNall's own campaign flyer offers the clearest proof yet that this job is at least on some level more directly tied to supporting private campaigns of select lawmakers and county officials than it is about getting the word out about taxpayer-funded county programs and issues of relevance to county residents.
It would be a disgrace to boost the pay for such a position by 13.5 percent next year.
At 6:50 p.m. on Dec. 3 in legislative chambers, 175 Hawley St., lawmakers are scheduled to hold public hearing allowing county residents to weigh in on the proposed 2020 spending plan.
We recommend county residents let their voices be heard on this matter at that time, or that they call their county representatives to let them know that this proposed raise for this particular position is just like the position itself — an affront to good government and another slap in the face for the taxpayers whose hard-earned money keeps county government afloat.