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Call It Sour Grapes, But...

Twice, when Chris Collins was Erie County Executive, stacks of Artvoice newspapers mysteriously disappeared from our distribution point in the first-floor lobby of the Rath Building, which hosts county offices. Both times, the issue featured cover stories less than flattering to Collins. The distribution point was within the scope of a surveillance camera, so the second time it occurred, we requested access to the video recorded by that camera, arguing that the apparent removal and disposal of the offending papers amounted to petty theft. We were told by the fellow in charge of the property that he would not release the video for privacy reasons. We chose not to press the issue with a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, because who really cares if Collins sent some underling to grab the papers and throw them in a dumpster? We’re not petty people.

But this week brought this revelation: Current Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz’s office says that surveillance camera video indicates that Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw’s much-ballyhoed discovery of sensitive documents improperly and insecurely disposed of in an unlocked basement room by the county’s Department of Social Services, leaving county residents at risk of identity theft and invasion of privacy, was a stunt. Whether the documents were disposed of properly or not, the room was locked, says Poloncarz’s office, and a Mychajliw deputy prevailed upon a building custodian to open the room so she could get at the documents, which she then confiscated. The comptroller’s office has agreed to return the documents in question to the county executive’s office.

If the video shows what Poloncarz’s office claims it does, it presents some measure of vindication for the Department of Social Services and a modicum of embarrassment for Mychajliw with whom, trust us, such embarrassment can find no purchase. But we here in Artvoice’s modest but comfortable offices are left wondering: How come some folks can access surveillance video taken in a county office building to prove (or disprove) their positions, but we are told to go hang?

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