Buffalo Common Council Summary: Week of November 27, 2023

Date: December 1, 2023

by Caitlin Crowell

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. If you want to learn more about how the council meetings work and how you can get involved, check out our guide.

For this summary, we will report on the Caucus, Regular, and Claims Committee meetings. We will also include a special summary of the city’s Ethics Board meeting, though this board is not associated with the council. ‘Council Member’ is abbreviated as CM; ‘Council President’ as CP; and ‘Majority Leader’ as ML.

In the Caucus meeting, Corporation Counsel Cavette Chambers came to talk about a $43 million settlement that Buffalo has agreed to pay to compensate a woman who was hit by a police officer driving recklessly. The New York Supreme Court found that the officer was driving with “reckless disregard” and “conscious indifference.” Like all City of Buffalo police, the city is liable for his actions as long as they happened within the scope of his work. The officer remains on the force.

The $43 million settlement is equal to roughly 7.5% of the city's entire budget for 2023-2024. The amount is so substantial that the city has to borrow money to pay for it; according to the Investigative Post, taxpayers will likely end up footing a bill for around $47-48 million (depending on interest rates). Chambers said that organizing the funding had taken time, because “this is an unprecedented settlement for the city of Buffalo.” ML Rivera encouraged council members to ask further questions “in the privacy of our offices,” in light of additional pending lawsuits, both in this matter and in other cases of police behavior. For a discussion of when the council goes into executive Session, see PPG’s common council explainer.

The council planned to approve a new multi-year contract with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 17. The contract stipulates that operating engineers are essential workers, and they must work even if the mayor declares an emergency and closes City Hall. Based on our very brief analysis, this seems to be a new addition to the contract. It also adds Juneteenth to the list of recognized holidays.

In the Regular meeting, the council voted to support state legislative efforts to ban single-use plastics. While they didn’t mention a specific bill, they stated their support for the New York Attorney General’s lawsuit against Pepsi Co. for producing plastic garbage that ends up in the Buffalo River, among other places.

CM Nowakowski asked for the council to discuss a WBFO report, “Driving While Black,” about racially disproportionate policing. The report was produced using information from the city’s Open Data website. The council sent the item on to the Police Oversight Committee. ML Rivera noted that “the findings are alarming,” but said that the police should have time to verify and respond to the report. CM Nowakowski said he would work with the chair of the Police Oversight Committee, ML Rivera, to schedule a meeting, because that committee only meets sporadically.

The Claims Committee met to discuss the $43 million settlement negotiated by the city. They moved immediately into executive session, which is when council discussions happen privately and are not open to the public. Upon return, they recommended approval of the settlement. The full council will still need to vote on the settlement.

The Ethics Board finalized its plan to send out subpoenas to the eleven city employees and contract workers who have failed to file required financial disclosure forms. Members also discussed a letter of complaint alleging that Mayor Byron Brown violated election laws by using city police in a campaign ad. The board said that by its next meeting, on December 15, 2023, at 1:00pm, it would have a written comment on this issue for the public.