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Seven Days: The Straight Dope From the Week That Was

Yup, that's not Buffalo, it's Baltimore. How could you tell? Could it be the vibrant and well developed waterfront? Hear about alternate development plans on Oct. 23.

COMMUNITY FORUM ON WATERFRONT DEVELOPMENT >> This Saturday (October 23), there will be a community forum on waterfront development in the auditorium of the Burchfield Penney Art Center, on the Buffalo State College campus. The forum—hosted by Buffalo State visiting professor of economics and finance and AV columnist Bruce Fisher—is the first in a series of meetings intended to solicit community input in an effort to refocus waterfront development plans, especially in regard to the Inner and Outer Harbors and the proposed Peace Bridge expansion project.

Saturday’s forum begins at 1pm. The goal will be a “realistic and sustainable vision for the Buffalo Waterfront,” and the focus will be environmental, infrastructure, and financial issues.

HUD REMAINS UNHAPPY WITH BUFFALO’S BLOCK GRANT MANAGEMENT >> In speaking to the media about his agency’s concerns about Buffalo’s use of federal anti-poverty funds, HUD Deputy Secretary Ron Sims is conciliatory and encouraging.

But in his discussions with the local, community-based service providers who spend the community development block grant money that HUD sends to the City of Buffalo, Sims expressed disappointment at discovering that the city’s management of that money has not improved greatly since his last visit.

Sims last visited Buffalo last December, at the invitation of Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, to meet with service providers and city officials to discuss what Slaughter’s office than called Buffalo’s “systemic problem of misused HUD funding.” In March 2009, HUD’s local field office released a scathing report on city government’s administration of community development block grant money. (HUD’s Inspector General announced a few month’s later that his office would conduct an audit of the city’s use of federal funds, as a result of the scandal surrounding the failed restaurant One Sunset.) Mayor Byron Brown’s administration has since come to a series of agreements with HUD addressing the concerns raised in that report.

Sims returned to Buffalo on Monday, October 18, again at Slaughter’s invitation, to check on the progress the city has made in implementing those changes. Just as he had done in December, Sims insisted in his remarks to the press that he was not looking to pass judgment but only to find solutions, to determine and effect “best practices.” “Nobody was throwing stones at all today,” Sims said to the assembled reporters. “The providers laid out a series of challenges that they face, especially in this kind of economy, where we’re still struggling.”

But several heads of service and housing agencies who met privately with Sims and Slaughter before the press conference say that he is not pleased with the efforts the city has made thus far to reform its management and use of HUD money. One of those agency heads says that Sims found that there had been essentially “no progress” and that he seemed to lay the responsibility for that lack of progress on the Brown administration. Another agency head says the name of Deputy Mayor Steve Casey was often mentioned, apparently in reference to applications for funding and other paperwork that seem to stall or disappear in the second-floor office of the mayor.

“We want the efficient expenditure of public funds,” Sims said to reporters. “These to us are investments…we expect a return on those dollars.”

The coming year’s block grant amounts to $1,317, 551. The Brown administration proposes to use half that money to fund its demolition program and half for public infrastructure improvements in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods.

That was a silly mistake on my part: HUD has added $1,317,551 to the current year's block grant appropriation for the City of Buffalo. The Brown administration proposes to use half that money to fund its demolition program and half for public infrastructure improvements in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. HUD will also provide an additional $43,367 in funding for the Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS program, which will benefit Benedict House.

Adolfo Carrión, Jr., HUD’s regional administrator based in New York City, attended Monday’s meeting as well.

RETIREMENTS AT HUD FIELD OFFICE >> The monitoring report issued last March by HUD’s Buffalo field office was assembled by Nancy Peacock, director of the office of community planning and development, who recently announced her retirement after 40 years with the agency. Peacock is retiring along with Steve Banko, who has been HUD’s field office director in Buffalo since 1998. Prior to taking the HUD job, Banko—a Vietnam veteran who writes and speaks extensively about that conflict and our current wars—served as a top aide to Buffalo Mayor Tony Masiello. Michele Bernier, operations specialist, is also retiring from HUD’s local office after 38 years.

It has long been common knowledge that Mayor Byron Brown, who has taken umbrage at the criticism of his administration emanating from Banko’s office, would like to replace Banko with a person who would be loyal to him. One candidate whose name has surfaced again and again is the current executive director of BMHA, Dawn Sanders.

Last Thursday, Sanders called the AV office to scold this writer for suggesting in last week’s column that she’d been questioned by a resident commissioner about the alleged use of agency vans to transport kids wearing Brown t-shirts and handing out Andrew Cuomo campaign material at the Columbus Day parade on Hertel Avenue. (A minor-league violation of the Hatch Act, if it’s true, and we’re told the Office of Special Counsel in DC is interested in the incident.) We later posted online the email that BMHA resident commissioner Joe Mascia—one of the people said they’d seen the vans at the parade—had sent both to Sanders and to BMHA chairman Mike Seaman on Sunday, October 10, the day after the parade. Sanders told us she’d first heard of the allegation the following Wednesday, October 13. At first Sanders denied that any BMHA buses had been at the parade, then said the agency was looking into the matter.

Joan Spilman has been named interim director of HUD’s Buffalo field office.

It's mission accomplished: Having embarrassed the mayor, BERC is packing it up for good.

COMMON COUNCIL REPORT: Employees of the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corporation are packing their belongings into boxes as we speak: Their last day is Friday, October 22. Some BERC employees are being transferred to the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency; some are being transferred to the Buffalo Urban Development Corporation. Those who are not being dealt to another alphabet soup agency are headed to the unemployment lines.

In any case, Delaware District Councilman Mike LoCurto wants a thorough audit of BERC’s operations. On Tuesday, the Common Council approved his resolution asking Buffalo Comptroller Andy SanFilippo to audit BERC’s books for the past four years.

The Common Council also approved a resolution by outgoing Ellicott District Councilman Curtis Haynes asking that the city sell the former Public School 36 on Days Park by appraisal rather than by auction. The city thought it had achieved a sale to the Elmwood Village Charter School this spring, an outcome supported by neighborhood residents, but developer Sam Savarino stepped in with a Article 78 action alleging that the city had violated its own procedures for the liquidation of city-owned assets. A judge agreed and voided the sale.

And the Common Council approved the hire of a new assistant corporation counsel: attorney Ed Betz, who last appeared in these pages in regard to his work on North District Councilman Joe Golombek’s primary challenge to Assemblyman Sam Hoyt. Betz also directed the successful school board campaign of Jason McCarthy. Betz’s new gig pays $52,121 a year.

SPEAKING OF HOYT >> Assemblyman Sam Hoyt will face his Republican challenger, Brian Biggie, in a debate on Wednesday, October 27, at the University of Buffalo’s Allen Hall, at 7pm. Joe Golombek, who remains on the ballot as the Conservative Party candidate, says he’ll join the debate, too.

A WAKE FOR THE CULTURALS >> On Monday, October 25, at 4pm, a group called ACT OUT Buffalo will perform a kind of wake on the steps of the Rath Building in downtown Buffalo, to protest Erie County Executive Chris Collins’ cuts to funding for the region’s cultural organizations. Costumes are encouraged.

geoff kelly

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