|Date:||March 26, 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 four meetings, but our attention will focus on two: the Finance Committee Meeting and the Legislation Committee Meeting. The Finance Committee concerns all matters about the budget and issuance of bonds. The Legislation Committee examines all matters relating to local laws, ordinances, and general legislation, except for civil service matters.
During the Finance Meeting, Common Council received and filed the mayor's declaration of need for financing assistance made by the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority ("BFSA"). The mayor's administration took a deeper look at a request that would have extended the BFSA's yearly salary past its current 2025 end year. Based on his administration's further analysis and comments from the Council, Mayor Brown decided that the financing assistance was unnecessary.
The Council tabled (left available for further discussion) an audit management letter sent to the comptroller from a group of certified public accountants. In the letter, the accountants give their opinions on the procedures for auditing the City of Buffalo's financial statements. The most notable portion of the letter is where the accountants recommend "that the City determine the feasibility of collecting delinquent water fees on the annual property tax bills." The accountants go on to note that it will "further aid in the collectability of the unpaid bills."
Common Council quickly noted that the administration has promised not to turn off anyone's water. It will be interesting to see if the City attempts to collect this debt through property taxes during the global pandemic or wait until the economy stabilizes. One available option is to waive the obligation. Cities may waive debt to ease their residents' financial woes during times of crisis, like a pandemic.
During the Legislation Meeting, the Council discussed excessively long response times with AMR Ambulance Global Medical Response ("AMR") Regional Director Tim Frost. Frost first stated he needs more time to prepare a report, and that AMR never received any complaints directly. He seemed to imply that based on assessments made by "Dr. Bart (BPD SWAT Lead Team Physician) and Buffalo Fire," the calls where there are long response times are because they are lower priority, non-emergent calls. Frost also stated, "the system is somewhat broken," referring to the way calls are handled but did not elaborate. He will include in his upcoming report specific numbers of how many active vehicles have failing electronics.
The Council heard remarks on the "Right to Know" law. "Right to Know" mandates officers to provide a reason for the stop at the end of the interaction and leave a business card that contains pertinent phone numbers for BPD. 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 there will be no search if the person refuses.
Samantha White's remarks spoke of how the Racial Equity Task Force proposed the law modeling it after Right to Know laws from New York City and Syracuse. John Elmore invoked the names of people killed and brutalized by police and talked about why the Common Council needs to pass the law quickly. Miles Gresham spoke about how important it is that the Council does not water down the law and make it toothless because the entirety of the law is necessary to hold police accountable. Miles also spoke about police fear of doxing, where a person finds a public official's address and other personal information and releases it online. He noted how New York State outlaws this kind of digital harassment as a misdemeanor, and police should enforce that law to ensure they find individuals who commit that crime. Numerous other speakers came to speak in support of the Right to Know law, including religious leaders, the Urban Think Tank, and the Buffalo NAACP.
The Common Council directed Corporation Counsel to have a law prepared for the body to enact by mid-April 2021. Council President Pridgen stated that there had been no objections to the law by other Common Council members at the time of this meeting and that the legislative process is slower when the Council does not have a dedicated attorney. Common Council stated it will push to receive a dedicated legislative attorney during the next budget cycle.
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