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Byron Brown: Black Mayor or Black Widow?

He courts you like a spider preying on its next victim. He spins a tale of rhetoric about teamwork, trust, and loyalty to one another and the enemies he needs you to help protect him from. Then he lures you into his web of deceit, a.k.a. City Hall. Once there, you are stripped of your authority, beat down into submission, and lay waiting for the next attack on your person. If you fight back, lay claim to an idea, or don’t go along with the program (no matter who it will hurt), you are stripped of your dignity, professional reputation, employability, and given a new title: incompetent. Your good name is forever besmirched. The final blow used to be taking a fatal bullet and getting fired. Now it’s having your unemployment taken.

I was fired in January 2011. My name appeared on both the April and July quarterly reports from the NYS Department of Labor that listed all former city employees receiving unemployment benefits. Why did Darryl McPherson or his Audit and Control staff not “discover” that I was receiving unemployment until the 26th week of my claim? If anyone felt I was not entitled to it, why was the question not raised when I got fired? Why are Darryl and Mayor Brown trying to make me repay unemployment benefits that I am clearly entitled to but refuse to recoup the insurance premiums from the families who used insurance they weren’t eligible for or entitled to?

And here is the $91,000 question: When is someone going to acknowledge that usually “the first that one knew it, blew it.” I’m talking about our city auditor, the one and only Darryl McPherson. His Audit and Control Department found the 159 dead people on our insurance rolls and reported it in the November 2009 audit. Why then did they continue cutting checks to Blue Cross to pay insurance premiums for those same dead people for nine more months before advising the commissioner of human resources that they had not been removed from the bills?

No other administration in the City of Buffalo’s history has seen more female fatalities, 90 percent of whom were of African descent (Angela Joyner, Donna Brown, Michelle Barron, Tanya Perrin Johnson, Rita Hubbard Robinson, Cariol Horne, Karla Thomas, and now Antoinette Palmer; Alisa Lukasiewicz and Carla Kosmerl were white). If they weren’t fired, they were forced out, ushered out, or ran out to save their sanity and reputation. A few were even lucky enough to get out before they could be blamed for some error or other failure of the mayor’s administration.

Antoinette Palmer is the director of compensation and benefits who was suspended indefinitely and without pay because she allegedly mishandled my unemployment paperwork. She was hired in August 2010, two days before the mayor announced he was firing me. She came to City Hall with impeccable credentials and is one of the most extraordinary benefits administrators I have ever worked with. She hit the ground running in the midst of crisis and uncovered deficiencies that had been hidden for years. Two of her biggest strengths are communication and follow-up. I doubt very seriously that she did anything with my unemployment insurance paperwork without seeking and receiving direction. Her treatment is typical of the Brown administration’s disciplinary process—the punishment never fits the crime.

Once upon a time Byron Brown was a visionary leader. He had great ideas, mapped out strategic plans to bring those ideas to life, and was always ready with another one. That was before he became mayor. Byron traded those visions of progress for delusions of grandeur. He has become the Teflon Don of City Hall. He’s always “outraged” at what he “didn’t know” (or what Casey didn’t tell him). For what the taxpayers have paid in legal fees to outside attorneys, he could have avoided paying my unemployment and just given me what I asked for—a severance package. I guarantee you my request was less than what he has and is going to pay to outside counsel.

No other mayor has done this much damage to our community. We waited all this time and this is what we got. While Mayor Brown is not my enemy, I’m sure he feels like I am his because he is not accustomed to anyone fighting back. God said I had to love him, but he didn’t say I had to like the things he does. When people try to say bad things or wish ill upon him to me, I simply tell them “Byron is a former political family member who made a bad business mistake. I’m just trying to help him correct it.” To God be the glory! Keep me lifted.

> Karla Thomas, Buffalo

Karla Thomas is the former commissioner of human resources for the City of Buffalo. This letter first appeared in the Buffalo Challenger.

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