BERC EMPLOYEES GIVEN NOTICE
by Geoff Kelly - posted 2:51 pm, October 6, 2010
Today an attorney from Harris Beach informed employees of the Buffalo Economic renaissance Corporation that their last day of employment would be October 22. (In other words, a generous two week plus two days notice, delivered not by BERC’s president, real estate mogul Dennis Penman or BERC’s board chair, Mayor Byron Brown, but by a lawyer from the private law firm BERC has been paying to help wind down operations.) The reason for BERC’s dissolution, as far as the remaining employees can tell—those who have not been transfered to the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency, for example is the embrassment caused to the mayor by the One Sunset debacle, in which BERC provided $110,000 in loans and grants to a restaurant run by former basketball standout Leonard Stokes, who had close ties to Brown. The restaurant defaulted in spectacular fashion, leaving in its wake a flood of lawsuits and unpaid obligations. It turned out that Stokes’s initial application for a loan was denied by the large loan committee constituted of finance professionals, but then was later split into smaller loans that could be approved by staff, after the mayor encouraged his people to “help out” Stokes.
Did they ever: Michelle Barron, BERC’s vice president, practically managed the joint. Former Councilman Brian C. Davis held court there, and even wrote a check to the landlord, Kevin Brinkworth, Sr., when Stokes fell so far behind on rent that Brinkworth threatened to begin eviction proceedings. Unfortunately, that check bounced, the restaurant shut its doors, and the whole sorry episode went public—in January of the mayor’s re-election year.
Audits, firings, and recriminations followed. In his January 2010 state of the city address, Brown said he would fold up BERC and consolidate its operations somehwere else, possibly under BURA. Consultants and attorneys were hired to accomplish the dissolution.
According to meeting minutes, BERC’s board was still approving new loans and extending leases with tenants in some of its properties as late as April.