We've done little to hide our disdain for Niagara County Manager Greg Lewis. He's aloof, unrefined and a public relations disaster. But, we have given him credit when deserved for the positive things he's done for the county. We also respect, at least the appearance of, Lewis' ability to not allow his personal political beliefs to become public fodder. After all, it's vitally important for someone in his position to not allow his personal political feelings to infiltrate his actions as county manager.
Now, there has been speculation that Lewis is either an Independent or a Democrat. He was hired by the Democratic majority in 2003. Minority Leader Dennis Virtuoso, when Lewis had threatened to leave his position in 2006, stated that “I think this is really going to hurt Niagara County. He’s a class act.”
Later in 2006, after Lewis stated he would not be back, the Leg moved on with their search for his replacement. Lewis backtracked and presented the Leg with his contract for their approval. The Leg, having prepared to move on without Lewis, would allow him to participate in the interview process. Virtuoso responded by stating, “I think they should make (Lewis) the offer first....it’s a slap in the face to Greg Lewis”.
It's been presumed that Lewis, if not a Dem, is certainly in the good graces of the Democrats. (As a side note, it is curious that the county unions continue to support Virtuoso and the Democrats in the Leg when Virtuoso so easily dumps heaps of praise on Lewis, the worst enemy the county unions have ever encountered.)
While the public may speculate on Lewis' political beliefs, it's been just that, speculation, which is exactly how it should be. That's why the discovery of Lewis' overtly political activities is so disconcerting.
As part of Barack Obama's campaign, he encouraged supporters to participate in community blogs. Greg Lewis, our supposedly apolitical county manager, has one. In it, he makes comments such as "I am proud to be a Obama person - I am with you Senator 110%!", "I am so proud of Barack and Michele and I am so proud of all Obama people - a United States of America people! The last time I felt so good was my college student campaign working in Nebraska for Bobby Kennedy in 1968!" and "I am compelled to act to do what part I can do for all of us to go with Barack".
Now, we believe in freedom of speech and everything that is associated with such rights. But if you are going to work on the public's dime, in a position that requires you to remain apolitical, in a position that you yourself have stated the importance of remaining politically neutral, you give up your right to engage overt political support. Stating that you supported Bobby Kennedy in 1968 is indicative of your political leanings. Creating and participating in a community blog for one candidate is a violation of the public's trust.
Even more disconcerting is Lewis' financial support. According to this site, Lewis has given $704 to the campaign of Obama, $704 of his taxpayer funded salary. Most offensive is that Lewis' occupation is listed with the contribution. So anyone, anywhere, can pull up that site and see that the County Manager from Niagara County donated $704 to Obama. It would not be a stretch for people to assume that, as the Manager for Niagara County, his beliefs are representative of the people of this community. This is far from an objective appearance, and an absolute impropriety for anyone who must, at minimum, exude the appearance of political ambiguity.
Possibly the most offensive statement made is "I am so proud of all Obama people". The problem with this declaration is the fact that John McCain pulled 49.5% of the vote in Niagara County. So if Lewis is so proud of the Obama people, what is he saying about the other half of the people of this county, the ones who also contribute to his significant salary, health insurance and retirement package? I'll tell you what he's saying: He's saying "you suck and you're a moron for not supporting my guy".
As we alluded to, when you take a position such as a county manager, certain things are expected of you. One of those things is to stay out of politics. Lewis, who often espouses that he despises politics, has not only not stayed out of politics, he's jumped in with both feet. This is unequivocally unacceptable. For some who supposedly prides himself on holding others accountable, it's time someone in county government starts holding Lewis accountable. We deserve no less.