BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Erie County’s Comptroller is claiming that County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein illegally received hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime and comp time. But County Executive Mark Poloncarz says there’s no issue.

Stefan Mychajliw believes this money was “paid improperly under state law,” according to a news release from his office that was released Tuesday morning. His argument consists of two main points:

  1. New York State Public Health Law says the Health Commissioner’s compensation must be “fixed.”
  2. The CSEA contract does not allow for “employees who are required to have a medical degree” to receive overtime.

Based on these claims, Mychajliw is calling for Dr. Burstein to pay back the $336,148 in overtime and comp time she received in 2020 and 2021.

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“Commissioner Burstein has a medical degree and was appointed to that position,” Mychajliw says. “Since medical doctors are exempt from overtime, that means she does not qualify to receive it. The additional compensation is improper and illegal. Dr. Burstein needs to pay it back before the county is sued, costing taxpayers even more money on top of her exorbitant overtime.”

But in a statement made earlier this year, Poloncarz said it was perfectly fair for the Health Commissioner to receive overtime. That’s because the money came from the federal government’s Coronavirus Relief Fund — a $150 billion fund established through the CARES Act.

“All COVID-19 related overtime earned by county employees is authorized by the U.S. Treasury as an appropriate use of CRF funding,” Poloncarz said.

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Along with that, William Wilkinson, the president of the region’s CSEA unit says it’s not accurate that any contract provision “disqualifies” Dr. Burstein from receiving overtime, since she is managerial.

Managerial benefits do tend to reflect those listed in the union contract, but Burstein is not bound to that union contract.

Dr. Burstein’s overtime added up to $176,819 in 2021, Mychajliw says, while her salary for the year is $209,044.

On Tuesday afternoon, Poloncarz responded to Mychajliw’s claims:

“The Comptroller’s sad post-holiday attempt at relevance is as misguided as it is incorrect and shows once again his stunning ignorance of both how the response to COVID-19 has been conducted and the rules associated with it. It is hard to believe that the county’s CFO apparently still won’t accept that all overtime payments for work done in relation to the COVID-19 response are valid and acceptable under federal, state, and local law and that Erie all Erie County employees, except for elected officials, are entitled to collect it. As has been noted multiple times before, all time that is “substantially dedicated” to COVID-19 activities is CARES Act eligible, including overtime.  This includes the Sheriff’s Office employees who’ve earned the majority of overtime, a fact that the Comptroller never mentions, as well as all other personnel, regardless of department, who’ve earned it as a result of their work responding to the pandemic. This issue has already been raised and settled with the Office of the U.S. Treasury OIG; yet, the Comptroller continues to bring it up despite knowing that it is false. That’s fundamentally dishonest and disrespectful to the men and women who keep us all safer. 

It’s disturbing that any elected official would so consistently make false statements and spread misinformation, but it’s sadly not surprising given the Comptroller’s long history of baseless attacks, factual inaccuracies, and bad faith arguments. However, it is consistent with his ongoing and desperate need for attention while downplaying his own lengthy absence from his publicly-funded elected role, which is itself worthy of investigation. He’s never been qualified for his office, never tried to learn how to fill that role and, most discouragingly, actively worked to subvert the county’s public health response to the pandemic. 

Finally, as has been publicly reported and confirmed by the comptroller himself, he has already accepted an offer to be a paid political operative for the same propaganda firm that promoted disgraced former Congressman Chris Collins, and he may already be on that firm’s payroll. Every statement he has made since he announced his new job at the end of November should be assumed to be part of his new role as a paid political operative.

In less than 84 hours, the people of Erie County will have a new comptroller and we can all look forward to a better, more responsible Comptroller’s office that is dedicated to factually reporting the finances of the county.”

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz

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Evan Anstey is an Associated Press Award and Emmy-nominated digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2015. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.