Common Council Improperly Moves Fire Dept. Overtime Audit Discussion Away From Cameras and the Public

Discussion of Buffalo Comptroller Mark Schroeder’s audit of the Buffalo Fire Department cut short in Council Chambers, moved to conference room with no cameras

 

How do you keep the public in the dark about an audit that exposed 48-hour shifts by city dispatchers?  If you’re the Buffalo Common Council, you move discussion of the item out of Council Chambers, away from the cameras that broadcast to citizens, and into an obscure conference room that the public would have trouble even finding.

“The taxpayers foot the bill for this excessive overtime, but if they want to know why it’s occurring or if it will get fixed – that’s when the cameras get turned off,” said Buffalo Comptroller Schroeder, adding that overtime in the Buffalo Fire Department has cost taxpayers more than $10 million dollars in the city’s past fiscal year, which ended June 30.

Schroeder’s audit of the fire department’s payroll found that an office of about a dozen civilian dispatchers have worked 24-hour shifts on 137 occasions in the past fiscal year, in addition to seven instances of employees working 48-hour shifts.

Discussion of the audit was abruptly cut short in the council’s finance committee meeting last Wednesday, which, like all regular committee meetings, took place in Council Chambers and was videotaped and made available online and broadcast to cable customers on Channel 22.

Instead of discussing the item in the public eye, the council scheduled a meeting for Wednesday, July 12 at 11 a.m. in City Hall room 1417, a hard to find conference room with no cameras.

“So instead of simply turning on their television or computer, the public has to come downtown, pay to park, go through security, and find room 1417,”  said Schroeder.  “Not exactly my idea of transparency.”

Schroeder requested that the meeting be held in Common Council Chambers, a request that was denied by the Council.

“This is a pattern – rather than addressing a problem, it just gets swept under the rug,” Schroeder said, adding that his first audit of the fire department’s payroll took place more than a year ago.

“Not only has the problem not been addressed, it has gotten much, much worse,” he said.  “I don’t think less public scrutiny is the solution,” he said.