Incumbent David Shenk (D) is looking to be elected as Erie County comptroller. He is looking to stave off a challenge from Stefan Mychajliw (R) for the final year of the seat previously held by Mark Poloncarz, who is in his first year as Erie County Executive.
On Feb. 27, 2012, Shenk was sworn in as comptroller to replace Mark Poloncarz, who had been elected as county executive. Shenk at the time was serving as the town clerk for the Town of Boston, a position he has held for 20 years.
“The position of comptroller is not that different from what I did as the town clerk,” Shenk said. “Here the numbers have a few more zeros on them than they did in Boston, but you still have to account for all of it.”
According to Shenk, who is endorsed by the Democrat and Working Families parties, his work with the town and his position as a sergeant first class with the U.S. Army Reserve has helped him to be prepared to address the county-wide issues.
“When I served in Afghanistan (the latest tour was from Nov. 12, 2010 to Nov. 18, 2011), as a health care specialist with the 19th 82nd Forward Surgical Team, I had to do track all the patients movements from the time of injury to when they are in their final location in an Army hospital, often in Germany,” Shenk said.
“I had to make sure the helicopters got out to pick up the injured soldier, then once stabilized get them sent to the combat support hospital and then from there to Germany.
“Coordinating all the medical evaluations and making sure that everyone is prepared, is immense,” he said. “Those experiences are of great help with this job, as I have experience handling large amounts of paperwork and keeping track of all kinds of information from various sources.”
Shenk was awarded a Bronze Star this May for his work in helping set up a tracking method that could be standardized for all units across Afghanistan.
Since his appointment to the position, in April, Shenk initiated a county-wide risk assessment.
“We started it in the comptroller’s office, because there is a lot of money coming through this office,” Shenk said. “We need to be sure that all the checks and balances are working.
“Level of loss needs to be assessed and we need to apply the risk assessment process within the whole county. It is impossible to eliminate all risks but we can reduce them and by doing that, we reduce possible losses,” he said.
Shenk said that once the comptroller’s office is done, he would like to try and identify the status of each department, to see what steps would need to be implemented to reduce the risks in them.
Currently the big challenge for Shenk, outside of running for re-election, is that his office is doing an independent analysis of the proposed 2013 Erie County Budget.
“My job is to go over the budget line-by-line, to see if the projections and estimates are logical and release a budget report,” Shenk said.
“As an example, if the budget estimates we will see an increase of $400,000 in the annual sales tax numbers, I have to look at that and see if that is a realistic number. If the budget says there is a need to pull money from the fund balance, then I need to find out where the money is going and how it will be paid back into the fund balance.
“Our reserve fund balance should not drop below 5 percent of the operating budget, but there are some real concerns that in the long term, there will be trouble keeping it at that level,” Shenk said.
“I and my team release a comprehensive analysis of the budget by Oct. 31. Our job is to get out the most accurate information about these numbers as possible.”
Shenk has also initiated an audit of the Erie County Water Authority.
“Last time this was done was over 10 years ago and they were long overdue,” Shenk said. “Often controls are put in place, following previous audits, which are followed for a time and then forgotten.
“Right now we are comparing the ECWA with other water authorities across the state to see where they are,” Shenk said.
If re-elected Shenk said he wants to continue many of these audits and checks that he has initiated, as well as reviewing other departments to make sure that all the checks and balances are in place.
“We are responsible to all our residents to make sure their tax money is being used responsibly. I take that job seriously,” he said.
Shenk and his wife of 13 ½ years, Polly, live in the Town of Boston and own two Bichon Frise dogs, Charlie and Caesar.
For Mychajliw, he sees this as an opportunity. The opportunity is not only to change what he sees as the “friends and family” plan he believes has returned to Erie County government, but also as a way to honor his family as he is the son of a Ukrainian immigrant.
The family, including his father and grandparents, moved to the United States in the mid-1960s and Mychajliw knows they did so in order to enjoy the freedoms that come with living in this country – including in this case, the chance to vote.
Regardless of how the elections transpire on Nov. 6, Mychajliw said one of the aspects he is proudest of is that his father will have the chance to vote for him.
Growing up, the comptroller candidate did not always have it easy.
“I grew up in extreme poverty,” he said.
But that did not stop him from working hard and achieving success in different fields. He served as a television news reporter for several years, including at WGRZ-TV, where he said he helped uncover a lot of the pork and patronage jobs that were part of the Joel Giambra administration.
He also helped found the Profit Media Group, and he believes his instincts as an investigative reporter, as well as his ability to successfully manage a business make him the ideal choice to serve as the watchdog for Erie County’s finances.
“I think it’ll be a good fit,” he said, noting that he helped expose “waste, fraud and abuse at county hall” and if elected, he will do so again.
Despite his backing by the Erie County Republican party, Mychajliw vowed that it will not stop him from doing the job he is elected to do.
With a Democratic County Executive currently in office, he believes it is important to have someone who will help make sure politicians do not waste taxpayers money.
“I really don’t care about party labels,” Mychajliw said. “Taxpayers deserve checks and balances.”
Mychajliw said he is concerned that residents are not getting a proper system of checks and balances, since Shenk is not only a Democrat, like Poloncarz, but he also inherited his deputies when he was sworn in earlier this year.
“We have some of the highest taxes in the country,” he said, adding that this is another reason why it is important to have an independent watchdog.
With taxes burdening residents, Mychajliw is concerned that it is leading to unqualified people getting jobs in Erie County.
“The friends and family plan is back in Erie County government,” he said. “I don’t want to let it happen again.”
He said if elected, he would conduct a thorough review and audit of all county departments to make sure the county hires the “best and brightest” and most qualified candidates for positions.
Another goal of Mychajliw is to see that there is more money in reserves than there is currently.
He believes it is vital to “spend less and build reserves” in order to improve the bond rating for Erie County.
The challenger said he intends to maintain a lot the same philosophies he uses day-to-day.
He is conservative in the way he epends.
He does not drive a fancy car, he drives a ‘99 Oldsmobile with more than 140,000 miles on it.
Mychajliw added he has enjoyed the chance to go door-to-door and talk to residents about issues and concerns.
He noted he spent a lot of time in the Hamburg area this summer, and also by his conservative nature, has bought three pairs of shoes and rotated them throughout the campaign so he does not have to spend additional money on new shoes and can be happy with what he has.