BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A complaint submitted to the Erie County Board of Ethics and the County Comptroller's Office alleges impropriety by County Executive Mark Poloncarz with regards to a $60,000 grant awarded last year to the Buffalo Italian Cultural Center.
The same woman who alleged in a police report earlier this month that Poloncarz grabbed and restrained her during an argument filed the ethics complaint on August 20, a day after the incident.
The woman, whose name Spectrum News 1 is withholding because she said she was a victim of domestic abuse, said in the email it was inappropriate for the cultural center to receive the money when Poloncarz was having "an affair since at least March 22 and still today" with the then-deputy director, who is now the executive director of the cultural center. In response to reports of the initial argument, Poloncarz claimed he did not physically abuse but had a bad breakup with the woman.
The chief of staff for the county comptroller, Jessica Schuster, in an August 24 internal memo forwarded to Spectrum News 1. acknowledged the ethics complaint. In it, she said she reviewed all the funds the county has given to the cultural center since 2019, totaling $167,500, including the $60,000 Cultural Capital Fund grant.
"I have reviewed all contracts which appear to have been approved by all the appropriate parties and carried out in accordance with County requirements," Schuster wrote.
Poloncarz as county executive is chair of the Capital Projects Committee, but his spokesperson noted it is a bipartisan group that unanimously approved funding to 36 arts and cultural organizations. He said the cultural center grant was among the smaller awards and the Legislature subsequently unanimously approved the contracts as well.
“The Italian Cultural Center of Buffalo is a well-established nonprofit that has won awards for its cultural programming and is a Western New York institution," Poloncarz's spokesperson Peter Anderson said.
He added that this is a personal matter and won't distract Poloncarz from leading the county.
"We meticulously and properly followed all guidelines and procedures in the application process under then-Executive Director John Vecchio and look forward to Erie County’s continued support of our work," current cultural center Deputy Director Dan Vecchio relayed on behalf of the organization.
Poloncarz, a Democrat, is in the middle of a county executive race that has escalated in recent weeks over both issues related to migrants in Erie County and the alleged domestic incident. His opponent, Republican Chrissy Casilio, held a press conference Thursday afternoon in front of the county office building, saying Poloncarz should have disclosed any romantic relationship and recused himself from the decision to award money to the center.
Casilio wants to see the county code of ethics strengthened, which right now only requires an annual disclosure of family members working for government organizations. It makes no mention of non-marital relationships.
The complaint also alleged the executive director, who Spectrum News 1 is also not naming because we don't know the veracity of the claims, consulted with a public relations specialist to manage the fallout of the "affair" and that the county executive consulted with her after hours about challenges with her board of directors.
Spectrum News 1 did send a Freedom of Information request to the Ethics Board asking for any and all materials available related to the complaint but have not yet received a response.