Feb 21


Kearns delivers — literally

A commission is considering raises for Erie County's elected officials. We looked at the side hustles — from DoorDash to landscaping — those officials rely on to make ends meet.

Erie County Clerk Michael P. Kearns. Photo courtesy of WGRZ News.

The Erie County clerk drove DoorDash for a couple years.

The chair of the county legislature sells gift baskets.

The county comptroller heads up a local college’s political science department.

Side gigs and second incomes abound among Erie County’s elected officials, particularly among legislators, whose jobs are considered part-time — with salaries to match. 

Now a commission charged with evaluating how much those elected officials are paid is considering big raises for legislators and four countywide offices: executive, comptroller, clerk and sheriff. 

The commission is looking at pay hikes ranging from 23 percent to 52 percent for the countywide offices, according to an analysis by The Buffalo News. The commission has discussed boosting the salaries of legislators by nearly 80 percent — or hardly at all.

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The commission has held seven meetings since convening in December. It has yet to submit a proposal to the Legislature, which must vote on its recommendations. The commission was last convened in 2018 and recommended pay increases that were adopted by the legislature the following year. Those were the first raises the county’s elected officials had seen in 23 years.

No new pay raises would go into effect until after the next election for each position.

The part-timers

County elected officials each year must submit a financial disclosure form to the county ethics board, identifying outside sources of income, as well as other potential conflicts of interest, including property holdings, investments, and board positions held by themselves or members of their families.

Currently, all but one of the county’s 11 legislators list other sources of income on their financial disclosures:

Only Legislator Howard Johnson of Buffalo didn’t list any secondary sources of income on his financial disclosure forms. Johnson listed no real estate or other investments.

The base salary for a county legislator is currently $42,588. The majority and minority leaders get an extra $5,000 per year, and the chair gets an extra $10,000.

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Some commission members seemed to think that compensation, which includes full-time benefits, is sufficient, according to meeting minutes. The nine members were split on whether raises would attract more candidates to public office, and on whether the job should be considered full-time.

One commission member, who favored raises for legislators, said he’d observed “that some …work a lot of hours, and some do not. Some have outside jobs, and some do not.” Another noted that, in his interviews with legislators, none “would go on record saying they work less than 37 hours a week.” 

One member suggested raising the base salary to $78,992 — with the chair receiving $97,355 — noting that legislators’ pay has not tracked with regional wage growth over the past 30 years.

The “big four”

Some countywide officials — referred to as the “big four” by the salary commission — listed outside income sources in their annual financial disclosures, too.

County Executive Mark Poloncarz, for example, earned extra income from sales of his 2019 book, “Beyond the Xs and Os: Keeping the Bills in Buffalo.” 

Sheriff John Garcia retired from the Buffalo Police Department in 2019, then worked as an investigator for the county’s assigned counsel program, before being elected sheriff in 2021. He collected $90,300 in retirement benefits last year, according to state records. 

Garcia was co-owner of a private security company with state Sen. Patrick Gallivan and former Buffalo Police Commissioner Richard Donovan but gave that up when he took office. His wife holds an ownership stake in the company, according to the financial disclosure Garcia filed last year. 

“I have no time to do anything but this job,” Garcia told Investigative Post. “I’m just the sheriff now.”

County Comptroller Kevin Hardwick is interim chair of Canisius College’s political science department, where he has taught since 1989. He currently teaches two courses — one class each day, according to a spokesperson.

And finally, there is County Clerk Mickey Kearns.

Kearns reported working as a driver for DoorDash on his 2021 and 2022 financial disclosure forms. As clerk, his base salary was $79,092 in those years.

Kearns did not respond to requests for comment.

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The clerk’s salary is set at $90,129 this year, thanks to cost-of-living increases included in the 2018 recommendations made by the last salary review commission. The current commission has discussed increasing that figure to at least $120,000 and as much as $146,700. 

The county executive currently makes $139,932. Commission members have suggested that the salary be raised to at least $150,000 and as much as $210,000. 

The sheriff’s base salary is $101,811 this year. One commission member suggested that figure be bumped up just slightly, to $115,000. Several recommended the sheriff’s pay should be more than doubled, to match the high end of the recommended salary for county executive.

The comptroller’s pay is currently $107,160. Commission members suggested that it be increased to at least $115,000 and as much as $149,521. 

Hardwick’s spokesperson said the comptroller had no comment on the prospect of raises, calling that “the prerogative of the Legislature” and saying he was content with his salary. 

Garcia likewise said his compensation is sufficient. But he also told Investigative Post — and the commission — that the county’s elected officials should get raises, if voters want to attract good candidates. He noted that City of Buffalo elected officials, across the board, make more than their counterparts in county government. 

“Some people in the legislature have other businesses. Others, that’s their full-time job,” he said. “If you’re going to get people to do the job as they should — all day, talking to their community — it’s a full-time job.”


Investigative Post

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