Buffalo Common Council Summary: Week of April 26, 2021

Buffalo Common Council Summary: Week of April 26, 2021

Date: April 29, 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 matters.

During the Caucus Meeting, the Council approved an authorization request from Brendan Mehaffy, Executive Director of the City of Buffalo's Office of Strategic Planning. Mehaffy spoke about Buffalo receiving $7.57 million in funds from the federal government's Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP). The purpose of the funds is to provide direct financial relief to assist low- to moderate-income tenants residing in the City of Buffalo. To qualify for ERAP relief, residents must have a gross household income at or below 80% of the area median income, must be financially impacted by the pandemic in a significant way, and have overdue rent.

Residents may qualify for up to 12 months of rental arrears payments, three months of additional rental assistance, and up to one year of electric or gas utility arrears payments. The New York Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance makes direct payments to the rental property owner and utility companies. Once agreements between Buffalo and New York State are official, residents can find information on applying at https://otda.ny.gov/.

During the Regular Meeting, Common Council committed to reviewing a Board of Education (BOE) resolution requesting the Council take action on school traffic safety and enforcement. The resolution asks Common Council to maintain the 15-mph speed limit throughout the entire school day, establish a joint working group between Buffalo Public Schools (BPS) and the City, and have the joint group establish a traffic safety and financial plan. BOE member Larry Scott and a BPS principal also sent letters supporting the School Speed Camera Program. The Council will review them in the Legislation Committee. 

The Council received a letter from the New York Attorney General's Division of Social Justice about compliance with Governor Cuomo's Executive Order 203. The executive order requires city governments to review their current police force deployments, strategies, policies, procedures, and practices" and enact reforms. Jessica Clark, Chief of the Civil Rights Bureau, and Assistant Attorney General Conor Duffy sent the letter to Mayor Brown and the Common Council on March 25, 2021. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) letter is in response to the draft resolution sent to the OAG by the Mayor's Buffalo commission to recommend police policy which included two councilmembers. 

In the letter, the OAG makes multiple comments and recommendations that suggest Mayor Brown and Common Council listen to suggestions from the community and the Buffalo Police Advisory Board. The OAG letter focuses on five areas:

  • Independent oversight
  • Use of force
  • Diversity
  • Role of police
  • Body-worn cameras 

The letter is nearly 12 pages long, so below are some highlights from the OAG:

  • Independent Oversight - "Buffalo should establish a civilian oversight entity to investigate allegations of officer misconduct. The OAG believes that this oversight entity should have subpoena power, structural independence, the power to conduct administrative prosecutions, a substantial budget, and qualified professional staff . . . the oversight entity should have final disciplinary authority over officers, or at a minimum, if the BPD departs from the recommended discipline by the entity, the BPD should be required to state in writing the reason for doing so."
  • Use of Force - "The OAG recommends that the Policy articulate an affirmative duty to de-escalate . . . not something that should be employed, but rather something that officers must or shall do whenever possible to avoid the use of force throughout an encounter."
  • Diversity - The OAG quoted PPG's 2017 City of Buffalo Police Department fact sheet showing, within BPD, white officers are overrepresented, and Black and Latinx officers are underrepresented. Additionally, the OAG notes, "We encourage the City to work with its partners in government, and where necessary those in the State legislature, to establish a residency requirement for the BPD."
  • Role of Police - "We also believe that the City should consider the existing proposals from the PAB on mental health alternatives to traditional policing. We further encourage Buffalo to consider the settings in which BPD are currently deployed, whether in schools, addressing homelessness, and in non-criminal traffic enforcement. The City should consider removing BPD from these settings and look to other cities as potential models for doing so."
  • Body-Worn Cameras - "In addition, we recommend that the process for the public to request reviewing recordings should be readily available online on the City or BPD's website and that the BPD should release footage when requested without the need for a FOIL request unless prohibited by law." 

Common Council is set to discuss the letter in the Legislation Committee. You can read it in full here: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/20685673-attorney-general-comment-on-buffalo-police-reform-plan.

The American Medical Response (AMR) Regional Director responded to the Common Council inquiry into AMR response times. The regional director sent to the Council the AMR's response times for 2020. Common Council will discuss AMR's document in the Legislation Committee.

Common Council briefly discussed a process disagreement between councilmembers. Some councilmembers believe the charter authorizes the Council to approve an ordinance amendment before receiving Mayor Brown's signature and before conducting a public hearing if the Council has a supermajority (at least six votes out of nine). Others believe that the mayor must sign the ordinance amendment before Common Council can approve it. Council President Pridgen checked with previous Council President James Pitts – who created the process – and confirmed intentions for Common Council to have the power to approve an ordinance amendment first and then send it to the mayor.

The Council approved an ordinance amendment to extend small business social distancing legislation through November 15, 2021. The legislation allows for small businesses to create temporary outdoor spaces to comply with social distancing and maintain profitable capacity for their companies.

Need more than just a summary? Contact us at info@ppgbuffalo.org, or find full meeting information and schedules here: http://buffalony.iqm2.com/Citizens/Default.aspx.