Buffalo Common Council Summary: Week of May 22, 2023

Buffalo Common Council Summary: Week of May 22, 2023

Date: May 26, 2023

By Sarah Wooton, Regine Ndanga, Dejia James, Megan Battista, and Anna Blatto

Each week, PPG summarizes important takeaways from the major Buffalo Common Council meetings. We also include information from council meetings related to our Community Agenda items.

This week's summary focuses on the Civil Service, Education, Legislation, and Finance Committees. We abbreviate “Council Member” as CM, "Council President" as CP, and "Majority Leader" as ML.

During the Civil Service Committee Meeting, CMs Scanlon, Nowakowski, and Golombek proposed creating the City of Buffalo Emergency Management Coordinator Position.

CM Bollman introduced SPARK (Streamlining Processes to Attract & Retain Knowledgeable Personnel in COB). He emphasized the need to actively recruit and retain talent for municipal jobs in Buffalo, particularly among college graduates. CM Bollman mentioned ongoing recruitment efforts, including collaborations with Buffalo State University and adopting NEOGOV, a system to improve hiring processes. He expressed interest in meeting with Human Resources Commissioner Gladys Herndon-Hill to discuss employment opportunities and fill vacant positions. CM Nowakowski supported CM Bollman's remarks.

During the Education Committee Meeting, discussions centered around organizing a resolution for potential public safety locations to respond to extreme weather events. CM Bollman noted that collaboration with the City and the Department of Public Works would help identify community assets such as schools, community centers, and senior centers based on suitability and resource availability. 

David Hills, former principal of PS 43 and Chief Operating Officer for the Buffalo Public Schools (BPS), discussed BPS' efforts to mobilize resources in the wake of winter storms to support the community during severe crises, including identifying sites with large parking lots for vehicle storage (e.g., School 18, School 54, West Hertel Academy, Waterfront Elementary). He stated the second stage of their plan involved using schools with easy access, large lots, reliable mechanical systems, generators, and ample parking as emergency shelters (e.g., West Hertel Academy, Waterfront Elementary, Olmsted 56, Stanley Makowski Early Childhood Center, Southside Elementary). He concluded by explaining the possibility of using a site as an emergency coordination center, emphasizing high network connectivity sites (e.g., West Hertel Academy). 

CM Bollman commended planning efforts, emphasized ongoing cooperation, and proposed scheduling regular meetings. CM Wyatt appreciated the proactive approach and stressed the need for immediate planning, citing safety concerns based on break-ins during the December 2022 blizzard. Hills suggested establishing a hotline through grassroots organizations and block club marshals to enhance community communication, mentioning a meeting with the Hamlin Park Block Club. CM Pridgen supported coordinating with an Emergency Manager and connecting with the existing 311 hotline for better preparedness. ML Rivera highlighted allocated funding for the Emergency Management Coordinator.

In the Legislation Committee Meeting, Nicole Yearwood, Senior Manager of Government Relations for Lime Micromobility in New York, discussed Lime's mission and vision for transit accessibility and expressed interest in expanding their electric scooter service to Buffalo. CP Pridgen and CM Wingo voiced appreciation for the Lime app. CM Wingo inquired about a potential Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) with Lime, covering infrastructure contributions and regulations such as the use of bike lanes and helmet requirements for Lime riders. Yearwood confirmed Lime's willingness to collaborate with the City and Department of Public Works, address infrastructure needs, and determine optimal operating locations. She mentioned Lime's helmet giveaways and their readiness to conduct such initiatives in Buffalo. CM Feroleto asked if Lime had contacted the City's Department of Public Works, to which Yearwood shared attempts by her colleague Robert had been unsuccessful, leading them to reach out to the Common Council. CM Feroleto proposed tabling the motion to allow Yearwood and her colleagues to follow up with the Department of Public Works.

During the Committee discussion on establishing the Black Rock Historic District, CM Golombek addressed the primary issue of preserving a historic 1830 home on developers' property. He emphasized the priority of relocating the house to a suitable location on the property due to its multiple relocations in the past. Due to budgetary constraints, an update on the matter couldn't be provided at the current meeting. CM Feroleto and Golombek proposed tabling the discussion until the next meeting for further consideration.

Lindsey Haubenreich, Partner at Phillips Lytle LLP, presented a zoning amendment request for 325 Walden Ave on behalf of St. Luke's Mission of Mercy. The proposal aims to expand the permitted uses of the current properties to include additional medical care services, which Haubenreich emphasized as crucial for the East Side community. Amy Betros, co-founder and director of St. Luke's, highlighted the organization's comprehensive services and expansion plans. CMs Wingo and Wyatt expressed their support for the projects, with CM Wyatt emphasizing the significance of community backing. Project coordinators highlighted the project's roots in community feedback and the inclusion of a $150,000 grant for local participants to receive paid construction training and soft skill development. Athenia Cyrus, a community member, voiced her support for the initiative. The Committee advanced the motion with recommendation.

During the Finance Committee Meeting, Dr. Will Keresztes, Buffalo Public Schools (BPS) Chief of Administration, Public Affairs, and Planning, advocated for Board of Education salary increases from $15,000 to $28,000 per board member, funded by the BPS budget. ML Rivera and CM Bollman expressed support, and Committee tabled the item.

A City of Buffalo Comptroller's Office representative explained policy changes regarding discretionary funds, including using larger pass-through organizations instead of directly issuing funds to small organizations. The representative clarified that Council Members could not use the funding for private property maintenance or patronage ads for Council Members. ML Rivera mentioned the accounting burden on larger organizations acting as pass-throughs, and other Council Members expressed concerns about fairness, given the Mayor's association with City programs. The representative clarified that a Council Member's name could be used in an ad related to the relevant event or program. The Committee tabled the item.

The Comptroller's Budget Response was received and filed; concerns about American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding filling budget holes were not addressed during the meeting.

The Buffalo Police Department decided not to pursue a contract with Minuteman Security Technologies, resulting in $400,000 returning to the City's budget.

Commissioner of Finance, Delano Dowell, reported that as of March 31, 2023, the City had committed 26% of available ARP funds and spent 20%. The City plans to use around half of the ARP funds for revenue replacement between 2021 and 2024, following federal guidelines on annual funding allocation. ML Rivera raised concerns about reduced funding for local social service groups if the City holds the funds.

Two residents spoke about the Citizen's Salary Review Commission, which evaluates Council Member salaries. Nathan Feist submitted a report outlining issues with the Commission's report. Paul Wolfe, President of the New York Coalition for Open Government, explained that the Board of Review should appoint commission members instead of the Common Council. Wolfe warned of potential legal consequences and urged the Council not to rely on the Commission's recommendations. A City's Law Department representative stated they had already addressed the Commission's creation. ML Rivera emphasized the Council's reliance on legal advice from the Law Department.

The Committee requested more information from the Comptroller's Office regarding audits of police and fire overtime costs.