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Next story: Stay on Peace Bridge Demolitions Continues

Tabled -- Forever

There is a place in the halls of city government, among the empty, unmarked offices on floors no one ever visits, where ideas and initiatives, good and bad, go to die. They die not of inflicted wounds but of neglect.

The place is in the committee structure of Buffalo’s Common Council, where committee chairs have nearly unfettered power to decide which items will be discharged to the whole Council for an up-or-down vote.

Take, for example, a resolution filed by Fillmore’s David Franczyk for the December 27, 2011 meeting, asking the the Common Council be apprised how much the city’s legal department was paying attorney Terry Connors to serve as outside counsel to defend Mayor Byron Brown against a lawsuit filed by the Cleveland devloper NRP. That’s the pay-to-play and racketeering lawsuit in which NRP accuses the mayor’s office of pulling the plug on a $12 million East Side housing project that it had previously approved, because NRP and its local partner, Belmont Shelter, refused to award a minority hiring consultancy to Reverend Richard Stenhouse, a powerful mayoral ally. NRP’s lawyers name Deputy Mayor Steve Casey and Masten Councilman Demone Smith in the lawsuit, too.

Franczyk filed the resolution as the majority in the Common Council was shifting to a coalition that includes Smith and is friendly to the mayor; that new majority has grown stronger since the departure of South’s Mickey Kearns and his replacement by Chris Scanlon, who must have agreed to the terms that at least two other candidates for the vacancy desctibed to Artvoice and say they balked at—namely, to vote with the majority when it matters most. One such occasion might be the approval of an out-of-court settlement between the city and NRP, which likely means a transfer of taxpayer money tpo NRP and a confidentialy agreement that would forever hide the truth of what transpired between the mayor’s office and the developer.

What has become of Franczyk’s resolution? It is dying a slow, sunless death in the Legislation Committee, chaired by Ellicott’s Darius Pridgen. One source tells us that, as of March, the city had paid Connors $30,000 to defend Brown in the lawsuit. Who knows how much it is now?

Here’s another item withering into inconsequence in Pridgen’s Legislation Committee: the proposal to landmark Trico Plant #1, which the Buffalo Niagara Medical Center, the iconic structure’s designated developer, would like to demolish, either entirely or in part. (The sprawling complex actually belongs to a city agency, the Buffalo Brownfield Restoration Corporation, which is a subsidiary of the Buffalo Urban Development Corporation.) Preservationists believe the publicy owned building, which is already registered as a landmark with the state and federal governments, should be afforded the protections conveyed by local landmark status, too; they feel it ought to be reused—if not by BNMC then by a landmark-savvy developer such as Rocco Termini, who has offered to take on the project.

On March 22, the city’s Preservation Board unanimously recommended that the Common Council grant Trico Plant #1 local landmark status. BNMC strenuously objected; the Brown adminstration objected more quietly, in part throught the offices of Pridgen, to whose Legislation Committee the designation was sent. As it happened, an unusual alignment of interests resulted in the committee chair being rendered powerless to stall the item in committee: North’s Joe Golombek departed from the majority coalition to join Niagara’s David Rivera and Franczyk in supporting local landmark status, over the objections of the other two committee members, Pridgen and Smith. Pridgen stalled to avoid a vote on Rivera’s motion to discharge the matter from the committee to the whole Council for a vote. As Rivera and Franczyk pressed for a vote, Pridgen appealed to the leader of the drive for landmarking Trico, noted preservationist Tim Tielman, for a compromise: Would Tielman be content if the item were to stay in committee for just two more weeks, so Pridgen could study the issue further? Fearing that he would alienate Pridgen if he said no, Tielman agreed, saying he could live with the item coming before the whole Council for a vote in three weeks.

That was April 24, almost 11 weeks ago. Despite the agreement Pridgen and Tielman made at that meeting, the item has remained stalled in committee, where Pridgen alone has the power to let it die or let it free.

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