Buffalo Common Council Summary: Week of March 15, 2021

Buffalo Common Council Summary: Week of March 15, 2021

Date: March 19, 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. The Caucus Meeting was unusually short, so we will only talk about the Regular Meeting this week. 

During the Regular Meeting, the Common Council spent the first half-hour of the panel discussing the validity of a declaration of the need for financing assistance sent by Mayor Brown on behalf of the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority ("BFSA"). A declaration of need is when a separate part of the city government requests the Common Council's authority to undertake a sale, purchase, or loan agreement. The BFSA's financial analysis determined that they can save the city $66,000 a year by selling a bond. During a bond sale, another entity will loan the government money. The government agrees to pay only interest during the loan's length until a set date where the loan "matures" when it must pay the loan’s entirety.

Common Council applauded the mayor and BFSA’s effort to save money but took issue because it did not have input in the draft stage of the declaration or financial analysis. The Council also took issue with receiving the declaration without proper time to analyze the bond sale request. However, the most significant hang-up the body had was that although the City of Buffalo would save $66,000 per year with the bond sale, it would need to keep a control board to handle the bond sale that costs about $750,000 a year in salary. If the control board disbanded, the city could potentially save much more.

Councilmember Golombek made an excellent point about how problematic control boards – like the BFSA – are with accountability to residents. The members of the BFSA are appointed, not elected. Control boards, like the BFSA, have the authority to make certain unilateral financial decisions with taxpayer money and no accountability. Boards must remain active (keep borrowing) and keep receiving authorization through state legislation to exist. One tactic used by boards is to keep issuing bond sales that keep them under the status of active and hamper a legislative body's ability to disband the board. The Council declined to vote on the issue and sent it to the Finance Committee.

The Council discussed the School Zone Safety Program again, specifically each councilmember's ability to unilaterally approve additional hours for the speed cameras to be on and ticketing drivers in their respective districts. Councilmembers denied the additional hours with one exception, with Councilmember Wingo approving the additional hours. Masten district school zone cameras will officially be the only cameras on all day in Buffalo.

Councilmember Nowakowski raised the point that the legislation only authorizes councilmembers to grant additional hours for speed cameras to be on in the case of special events. He also noted an application for all-day hours is not congruent with the terminology of the approved legislation.

Common Council announced an inquiry into the response time from Ambulance Global Medical Response ("AMR"). The Council received complaints about the response time of AMR from both police and affected residents. (Estimated wait times are anywhere between 20 and 40 minutes.) For reference, in Pittsburgh, a city six square miles larger and with nearly 50,000 more people, the average response time is 12 minutes. Members of the council acknowledged specific incidents where they had to wait 40 minutes or more for AMR. The Council stated there are unconfirmed reports from Emergency Medical Technicians ("EMTs") that some AMR vehicles do not have proper navigation technology, and that AMR does not authorize EMTs to use their cell phones for navigation. The Council sent the issue to the Legislative Committee for further discussion.

The Council adopted a resolution to draft the "Right to Know" legislation. The Corporation Counsel will draft the legislation, and when it is complete, Legislation Committee will receive it before it goes to the Council for a vote. Right to Know requires officers to give their name, rank, and command at the onset of any questioning or traffic stop. It mandates officers provide a reason for the stop at the end of the interaction and leave a business card that contains pertinent Buffalo Police Department (BPD) phone numbers. Lastly, Right to Know requires officers to ask for and receive recorded consent before searching a person or property without a warrant. The officer must explain to the person that there will be no search if the person refuses.

Common Council approved an ordinance amendment to Ch. 96 of the City Code on Bonds & Contracts. This amendment creates expansive rules governing contractors' apprenticeship requirements for both bidding on and receiving city contracts. Matt Kent from the Foundation for Fair Contracting first brought the issue of contractors violating Buffalo's apprenticeship law to the Council's attention back in August. Matt came back to explain that contractors seem to abide by the law only when the Common Council pushed the commissioner to enforce it. This amendment intends to solve that issue by creating penalties for non-compliance, placing multiple apprenticeship prerequisites into the bidding process, and requiring review and annual reports by the Mayor's Office of Contract Compliance.

Common Council officially appointed the first-ever Poet Laureate of Buffalo, Jillian C. Hanesworth. The Poet Laureate of Buffalo serves for two years and is an unpaid volunteer position. The Council appoints the Poet Laureate as an accomplished community member to "inspire Buffalo in verse." Jillian was the 2020 Poet Laureate of Buffalo's Juneteenth celebration and is the author of a compilation of poems and social observations on issues affecting the Black community called "They Say I Talk White." Jillian's appointment is an exceptionally remarkable and historical achievement coming during Women's History Month – or any month for that matter. We at Partnership for the Public Good congratulate Jillian and commend her on this incredible and historic achievement for Black women.

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