|Date:||April 16, 2021|
By Orlando Dickson |
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, the Common Council held two sessions: a Caucus Meeting and a Regular Meeting. A Caucus Meeting is where members from a specific political party – in Buffalo's case, the Democratic Party – meet, but official voting on issues does not occur. A Regular Meeting is the Common Council's primary meeting, where the body makes official decisions on issues.
During the Caucus Meeting, the Common Council drafted legislation to establish an emergency stabilization fund for Buffalo. An emergency stabilization fund allows the City to set aside surplus revenue for use during unexpected deficits. One councilmember stated the City of Buffalo needs this fund because when the pandemic hit, it was vulnerable. The Council expects to discuss this during the Finance Committee Meeting on Tuesday, April 20, 2021, and the Legislation Committee Meeting on the same day at 1 p.m.
The Council questioned Commissioner Finn on the progress of his office installing speed humps. Commissioner Finn stated his office would install the speed humps in 2021, but he also said he needs funding to match requests. Common Council expressed its willingness to find the money to fund the speed humps.
In a rare but promising move, the Council elected to approve three city bids for concrete replacement – only with the condition that the Common Council receive information on where the Department of Public Works will place the concrete. The Council actively engaging in the city infrastructure process signifies that Common Council may finally be using its budget and finance powers to ensure fairness in Department of Public Works projects.
Common Council discussed Section 3-19 of the City Charter, stating that local laws require public hearings, but ordinance amendments do not. The Council also discussed whether an ordinance amendment approved with two-thirds of votes must go to committee and asked the Assistant Corporation Counsel to research the issue.
During the Regular Meeting, the Council dedicated the week of April 18 through April 24, 2021, to medical laboratory professionals in honor of their work to ensure effective and efficient testing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
North District residents sent a letter to the Common Council requesting help with what they call a "litter crisis." The residents stated they have started picking up trash daily in their neighborhood and need the street sweepers to run more often. They also asked the City of Buffalo for more trash totes and trash bins in the most used areas, suggesting the Council install a cash incentive for residents to collect trash during the warmer months.
A resident sent in a letter requesting Common Council renew the 2017 discussion on allowing public access to the city budgeting process. Council President Pridgen introduced a resolution that sought to reform the budgeting process with help from Mayor Brown and the comptroller, requiring a response no later than January 2018. The Council moved the resolution to the Legislation Committee and tabled it in 2017.
Councilmember Wyatt sent a letter to the City's lawyers requesting that they draft citizens review board legislation that the Common Council asked for in June 2020. Common Council adopted a resolution in 2020 requesting research on establishing a citizen review board within 15 days and inviting staff to research the board's projected costs.
The Council discussed a resolution stating the failure of the City of Buffalo's Speed Violation Monitoring System Program. Some councilmembers expressed concerns about the resolution, stating the program is not a failure and wanting answers to more questions. Councilmember Scanlon said he does not want to create a $2 million budget hole. Councilmember Wingo said the resolution opens the City up to litigation. Councilmember Golombek noted he did not want to throw out the program just because it had issues at the start. The Council adopted the resolution by a vote of 6-3. As a resolution, it is not binding but does signify the intent of the Common Council. Administrators often look to the Common Council's intent for guidance on how to operate in their executive decision-making capacity. The resolution requires the City of Buffalo to issue ticket refund checks within 90 days and replace speed cameras with solar LED radar signs. The resolution also prohibits installing new cameras without a Common Council vote and requires the Department of Public Works to install speed limit signs and beacons. Lastly, the resolution requires multiple non-punitive traffic calming measures, such as speed humps and markings.
Common Council unanimously adopted an energy benchmarking policy for city buildings. The policy requires the collection, reporting, and sharing of building energy data. It allows municipal officials to understand a municipal buildings' energy performance, identify opportunities to decrease operational costs, make more cost-effective capital investment decisions, reward efficiency, and reduce environmental pollution.
The Council discussed Councilmember Wyatt's proposed ordinance amendment to the city code changing speed regulation in school zones. Among other changes, the ordinance would reduce the speed limit to 10 mph within a quarter-mile of a designated school zone – prohibiting the use of school zone cameras without a Common Council vote, and requires installation of pavement markings and other traffic calming measures.
Councilmember Feroleto, an attorney at law, cited a specific passage from the city charter that allows the Council to approve ordinance amendments without having a public hearing. The Assistant Corporation Counsel disagreed, reading the charter as saying ordinance amendments should have to go through a public hearing and have the mayor's signature. Councilmember Wingo agreed with the Corporation Counsel. However, the Council's supermajority agreed with Councilmember Feroleto, voting to approve the legislation 6-3, with Councilmembers Wingo, Golombek, and Scanlon all voting in the negative.
The ordinance amendment now goes to Mayor Brown for a signature. If the mayor does not sign within 10 days, it becomes law. If Mayor Brown vetoes the amendment, the issue comes back to the Common Council to vote on again after aging (sitting with the Council for two weeks). Common Council then has the option to override the mayor's veto with a supermajority vote if it does so within 30 days.
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