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Patronage in the Surrogate Court, is there a better way?

Patronage jobs come in all shapes, sizes and salaries. And in the case of one little known office, lucrative commissions.

The office is Public Administrator, a non-salaried, commission-based office dedicated to settling the estates of people who die without known relatives or heirs.

In Niagara County, the job is filled by County Treasurer Michael Broderick, who recently grabbed headlines by steering estate work to his wife and brother.

So what about Erie County?

Here, the job of Public Administrator is held by Acea Mosey, a well-known Democrat and a former Erie County Water Commissioner. She also is a long-time supporter of Surrogate Court Judge Barbara Howe, the judge who appointed her.

By all accounts, Mosey runs an efficient office. She also gets paid well to do it.

Mosey estimates her annual commissions at about $180,000 but some of that goes to the law office staff and expenses she needs to do the work.

It's a system at the core of a decades-long debate over what's best: A private, commission-based system of giving the estates to a small group of lawyers, or a staff of government employees doing the same work?

Or is there a third and even better way?

— Phil Fairbanks

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