|Date:||December 9, 2022|
By Rose Thomas and Sarah Wooton |
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 three meetings. The Finance Committee concerns all matters about the budget and issuance of bonds. The Civil Service Committee addresses matters relating to human resources, civil services, and personnel. The Community Development Committee focuses on issues about work or improvement using revenue from another government unit.
In the Finance Committee, Sue Lumadue, the City of Buffalo's ("the City") Senior Human Services Planner, reported that Hispanics United had done an excellent job providing rapid rehousing services to households facing or experiencing homelessness. Hispanics United has housed 66 families and has gone through all the funding allocated to them. Therefore, Lumadue asked the Council to approve an additional $250,000 for Hispanics United. This money would come from various sources in the Emergency Solutions Grants—CARES Act (ESG-CV) funding. The Council recommended approval for this motion.
Council Members Wyatt and Rivera expressed frustration that no one from the Citizens Planning Council ("CPC") appeared in the meeting to speak on the CPC's letter. Appointed residents make up the CPC that provides capital budget recommendations to the Mayor's Office. "Let me just be clear. The next time we come up with this," Council Member Wyatt said. "It's not going to be good. Because it's disrespectful. I think that we're asking a very simple question. You send us a letter, but you don't want to come to speak to that issue; it's a problem."
Council Member Rivera explained he wants to understand how the CPC makes its decisions. The Council approves capital projects for the budget, but then the CPC chooses not to fund some of those projects. Yet, the need for the project is still there.
"I have very little faith—I've always had little faith to begin with—in the Citizen's Planning Council," said Council Member Rivera. "In terms of representation, we know that decisions are made by three departments: OSP [Office of Strategic Planning], Public Works, and our Finance ... It's not a Citizens Planning Council. It's those departments making decisions based on priorities, and I can accept that. But the thing I can't accept is the appearance that it is citizens that are making those decisions, and it's not."
During the Civil Service Committee, there was a discussion about drug testing concerns in the Buffalo Police Department. John T. Evans, President of the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association ("PBA"), expressed his concerns about this through a letter to Council Member Wyatt. The letter stated that Healthworks, a drug testing company, has changed its policy regarding its random drug testing routine. Previously, this company cross-referenced any positive test results with a national registry. Presently, Healthworks notifies the administration if there are any positive results. As Evans continued his frustration with the administration, he stated that there should at least be an acknowledgment of prescription cannabis cards as many of the PBA members have PTSD. He ended his letter questioning, "It does make you wonder how a surgeon can use cannabis in their off hours but police officers can't?"
Evans discussed these matters further with the committee. His explanation differed slightly from the original letter, saying that Healthworks is now contacting positive test result persons to verify their medical marijuana card. He states that this may be a privacy issue as he does not know who else would have information on this and believes it is a HIPAA violation. He asked the Council to recognize medical marijuana cards to avoid officers' termination if there are positive test results.
The Council spoke about creating a position for a City ADA Advocate. Council Member Nowakowski spoke of his personal experiences addressing constituents and how they helped him recognize his ableism but also inspired the push for more disability access. BJ, a constituent of the First Ward, spoke about how Buffalo needs to live up to its name of "City of Good Neighbors" by stating its needs to be front and center of being inclusive for the rest of the country. He encouraged all council members to take the time to walk with their constituents so they could see what it's like to live in their shoes rather than being pitiful.
Over ten more constituents spoke about their experiences after him. Most of those living with disabilities expressed frustration with various infrastructure designs that make it inaccessible for them to maneuver around Buffalo. For example, one constituent, Todd, explained how the speed bumps across the city's residential areas are not ADA-compliant, especially when snow falls on top of them. This makes it extremely difficult for those with wheelchairs to ride over them. Other concerned people with disabilities spoke about how sidewalks, businesses, and even parking are inaccessible.
There are many instances where ADA renovations attempted to accommodate those with physical disabilities, such as ramps, but failed to acknowledge persons with chronic disabilities. Courtney, a constituent, raised an important question about how much of the new housing in Buffalo is accessible as she lives with a chronic condition. She continued her statement by saying that every aspect of the apartment should accommodate those with disabilities, not just the entrances or elevators.
There's a Citizen's Advisory Committee. However, it's become public knowledge this committee has yet to meet since 2006. The disability community has attempted to reinstate this committee without success. Council Member Nowakowski also mentioned that the Office of Diversity is currently handling all ADA-related matters. The disabled community hopes that the new ADA Advocate will be a part of the community and provide the expertise and knowledge to help guide the changes to improve the lives of disabled people in Buffalo.
During the Community Development Committee meeting, there was a discussion about snow removal and inconsistencies surrounding snow removal in many neighborhoods. Absentee landlords and businesses were areas of concern, and Council Member Wyatt suggested increasing fees or fines for the lack of snow removal. Nate Marton, Commissioner of the Department of Public Works, Parks, and Streets ("Public Works"), addressed questions about discrepancies or issues from the previous snowstorm.
Marton stated that the GPS system worked as expected during the snowstorm and provided the needed information. Council Member Scanlon said there was no rhyme or reason on the streets that got plowed. Commissioner Marton responded, stating Public Works coordinated maps of each snow plow in all districts and had inspectors on the field with contractors. He noted the job was challenging as some residents needed to follow the driving bans so they could clear out the streets. Council Member Nowakowski expressed concerns about private contractors not using the GPS, which caused some delays in updates. He believes there should be accountability as the City is spending public dollars on this system and has yet to address this problem. Council Member Bollman is hopeful Public Works can have a centralized system in the future to provide public information and will continue looking for resources to best assist.
Later in the meeting, the committee discussed the Hopewell Opioid Center planning to open in Council Member Wyatt's district. Constituents expressed frustration because there needed to be discussions or responses from the state or Hopewell about this construction. They hope the Common Council will keep this item open in their agenda to discuss this issue. Lastly, a constituent said they have yet to hear from Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes or Senator Tim Kennedy with any communication with the neighborhood about this.
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