Buffalo Common Council Summary: Week of January 30, 2023

Buffalo Common Council Summary: Week of January 30, 2023

Date: February 3, 2023

By Rose Thomas, Sarah Wooton, and Tanvier Peart |

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 four meetings. The Legislation Committee focuses on local laws, ordinances, and general legislation—except for civil matters. The Civil Service Committee addresses matters relating to human resources, civil services, and personnel. The Finance Committee concerns all matters about the budget and issuance of bonds. The Community Development Committee focuses on issues about work or improvement using revenue from another government unit. 

During the Legislation Committee, Council Member Wyatt expressed the desire to weigh in on the licensing process in the City of Buffalo. "We've had a lot of smoke shops popping up throughout our city," he noted. "Just wanted to let the public know, in many cases, unless it's a special use permit, the Council doesn't weigh in on it." 

Wyatt wants a moratorium on future smoke and vape shops to prevent more from popping up in neighborhoods without community input. He would like to work with the City's Department of Permit and Inspection Services to create a more public process and is waiting to hear back from the Law Department. "We know it's legal, and we know it's authorized, but it should be a process where the public weighs in as well."

The council member went on to question the school zone camera program. Residents waiting on refunds want to know when they can expect payments and how to go about the process amid the current lawsuit. In 2021, Common Council voted to end the use of the controversial school zone speeding camera program. Advocates against the extractive measures noted most cameras were in high-poverty neighborhoods. The program generated an estimated $1.7 million in revenue during its first week. A state Supreme Court justice denied the City's motion to dismiss the class action lawsuit.

In the Civil Service Committee, Council discussed a letter it received regarding the denial of back pay for retirees who worked under a contract. A few retirees joined the committee meeting to discuss these matters, including a former secretary of Local 264, who spoke of those who retired when the union transitioned into a new contract. The City of Buffalo ("the City") stated retirees didn't receive back pay due to the new language in the contract.

A former public works employee and Local 264 and 650 union member noted retirees once worked under "essential workers" status, hence why the union stated they would receive their money. Delano Dowell, Commissioner of the Administration, Finance, Policy and Urban Affairs, told Council the City was looking into the back pay request and estimated the amount to be $332,000 from its general fund. He hopes to issue back pay for former employees by the end of February or March.

Later in the meeting, the committee discussed creating an emergency management coordinator position for the City of Buffalo following the winter storm. Dr. Rosa Gonzalez joined the Council to answer any questions or concerns about this position as she has expertise in emergency management within the Department of Energy. She spoke about the need for emergency management during future storms as well as resources for the city. Dr. Gonzalez noted that a qualified candidate for this position would be someone with a degree in emergency management—and other educational backgrounds in public safety and administration—able to communicate effectively with surrounding towns and villages. There was a discussion on the need to include the community in the planning process to ensure needs are met to avoid another tragedy.

In the Finance Committee, council members discussed whether to approve lease extensions for community centers across Buffalo. Council Member Wyatt and Council President Pridgen explained that they had concerns about the community centers in their districts that were up for renewal. For example, in Council Member Wyatt's district, the management of the community center kicked block clubs out of the center and forced them to meet in the Lovejoy district instead. The council members said they'd like further community conversations with residents about the centers before approving the leases. 

The council members again discussed creating a fleet manager and an emergency manager position. Council Member Nowakowski stated plainly that the mayor's administration wants a fleet manager while the Council wants an emergency manager. The council members are trying to find out whether they have the authority to pass an emergency manager position without support from the mayor. 

The Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority ("BFSA") spoke to the council members about concerns with the City's financial plans. Among those, the BFSA advised the City to use the BFSA's higher credit union and to bond out capital funds through the BFSA to save money. The council members want to determine whether doing this will extend the lifetime of the BFSA beyond its expiration date.

Commissioner Dowell confirmed vehicle purchases are okay with ARP funds. He said Mayor Brown's team is thinking through these potential ARP fund purchases. 

During this week's Community Development Committee, council members discussed the termination of fluoride in Buffalo's water supply. Assistant Corporation Counsel Carin Gordon spoke on this issue as the Council still awaits a letter from the Buffalo Sewer Authority. There is a pending lawsuit regarding this matter. Gordon stated Corporation Counsel would not go into great detail to avoid further liability for the City. Council requested Oluwole McFoy, a representative from the Buffalo Water Board, to speak at this meeting. However, due to the pending litigation, Council Member Rivera noted that Council would have to be extra careful discussing this matter in open session due to its involvement in the lawsuit.

Councilmember Feroleto suggested that Common Council could develop a list of questions to send to Mr. McFoy to review, whether with attorneys or not. This would allow him to answer any pressing questions or concerns the Council or community members may have regarding this matter. He added that if this litigation lasts a couple of years, it's crucial for the public to be aware of this and to receive basic answers from the department ahead of time. Council Member Wingo questioned that by waiting a long time to give his constituents answers, they are left to assumptions about why and how there's no fluoride in the water.

During this meeting, Joshua Hutter,  the Eighth District President of the Dental Society, addressed the lack of consultation with public health experts on how removing fluoride from drinking water impacts residents. He stated residents have already seen a series of tooth decay in the area. Pamela Gay, a former Buffalo school teacher, asserted officials shouldn't add fluoridation to the water, especially in the case of civil rights. Samuel Herbert, a former cancer research technician, expressed his anger over the removal of fluoride from drinking water and applied pressure on the council members and the mayor involved in this process seven years ago. 

Later in this meeting, Oswaldo Mestre, Director of Citizen Services, spoke on city initiatives and the 311 response to the Christmas blizzard. Council Member Wyatt suggested that it would be helpful to have a live voice at 311 rather than a voicemail or automated message moving forward, as it's crucial to have those customer service skills.

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