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Taking the “Public” Out of Public Hearing

Tuesday I ran down to City Hall to catch the 5:30pm public hearing on Mayor Byron Brown’s proposed 2008-2009 budget. This is not a particularly popular pastime, I know; usually only a half dozen or so of the “public” attend and address the Common Council, department heads, etc. to make known their concerns about the city’s spending habits.

I arrived at 5:40 and found every door to City Hall locked. Seriously. This sucks, I thought. Then: But at least its’s fodder for a column.

So I hung around, peering in the door, ringing the bell that surely does not work, waiting for someone to leave. At about 5:45pm I was joined by a news crew from Channel 4. We tried calling people we knew inside, but everyone was gone for the day — or in Council Chambers, attending the “public” hearing that the public was unable to attend, because all the doors were locked.

At about 5:50pm, Inspections, Permits and Economic Development Commissioner Rich Tobe exited the building but let the door close behind him before I could shout out to hold it open. “Sorry, I can’t get back in now,” he said. I told him I was trying to attend a public hearing up in Council Chambers. He agreed that locking the doors on the evening of such a hearing was curious. But not, he thought, unusual.

Nor did Deputy Mayor Steve Casey seem to consider it strange that the doors were locked, as the Channel 4 team and I raced to the elevators at 6pm, when we finally slipped in the door behind an exiting bureaucrat. “Hurry up,” he said, “it’s just about over.”

Right he was: In the absence of any “public” in the public hearing, the Council had rolled two hearings into one and wrapped the whole thing up by 6:10pm. Exactly one person had signed up to speak. Everyone in Council Chambers was on the public payroll.

Afterward, Delaware District Councilmember Mike LoCurto summed up the hearing for me: a whole lot of nothing. He too was unsurprised to learn the doors had been locked. They had been locked during the previous day’s public hearing as well, he said.

  • Jake

    Small town government can also be persistent with their door-locking. The lawyer I used for my house closing was ousted from his position as town attorney in Medina, NY last year after a vote during a town hall meeting that was supposed to be public. Instead, the meeting was held behind closed doors, with half the village pounding to get in.

  • Logan One

    This is typical of Buffalo, no interest in hearing from the people who the City constantly rips off. If there was any justice, the state and federal governments would stop the City from spending money until real democratic reform could be adopted. Of course, the control board should be authorized to force the City to listen to its citizens.

    Taxation without representation, this is the stuff tea parties were made of in Boston over 200 years ago. What a fraud, Buffalo is a currupt mess and people like Tobe should be kicked out of their appointed positions for not giving a dam about democratic processes. Mayor Brown isn’t what we thought he would be. He should do the right thing and fix this mess. We didn’t elect him to take away our rights.

    This is not how legitimate cities run, this is how democracy is done in Russia, India, and other currupt regimes.

  • TM

    When will the people wake up and realize that we are not living in a constitutional republic anymore. We are living under corporate fascism. Wake up.

  • Dear Geffy,
    I just called out your hypocritical white librul ass on buffalopundit. YOUR upset about being ignored?!

    Get Real…

  • “LOCKED – OUT”

    Visit the following websites and see how Town of New Hartford, New York elected officials kept out a civic minded organization.

    website: and

    These town officials were attempting to deflect criticism using threats of the District Attorney, etc.

    Is this what this Country has come to?