Why I Hung Up On BMHA’s Dawn Sanders
by Geoff Kelly - posted 6:02 pm, October 14, 2010
I’m not proud of myself for doing it.
Honestly, I’m usually a patient person. Genial. Even folks who don’t like me, or who disagree with my politics and the things I write, tend to allow me those qualities.
But on Thursday afternoon, a total breakdown in my normally placid demeanor: I slammed down the phone receiver in mid-conversation with Dawn Sanders, the executive director of the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority.
Sanders had called to complain about a short item in a column I wrote this week, about two BMHA vans delivering kids wearing Byron Brown t-shirts to last Saturday’s Columbus Day Parade on Hertel Avenue. The kids were apparently passing out Andrew Cuomo literature. Using public property in the service of political work is, of course, wrong. Small transgression, small item in my column—maybe 150 words.
Sanders took issue with the part in which I wrote that resident BMHA commissioner Joe Mascia, who witnessed the vans and the kids, had asked Sanders and BMHA chairman Mike Seaman to tell him who had authorized the use of the vans. Sanders insisted that Mascia had never talked to her, and that she had no emails from him on the matter. She was angry at me for not calling her to confirm whether Mascia had brought the matter to her attention. She said the first she’d heard of the issue was Wednesday, October 13.
Here’s the email Mascia sent to both Sanders and Seaman on October 10:
From: Joe Mascia Date: 10/10/2010 7:58:52 PM To: email@example.com;firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: vans Mike, Who authorized the use of BMHA vans to transport non employees to the Columbus Parade for a political demonstration? I did see David Crandville there organizing kids with City of Buffalo Mayor Brown t-shirts. The people on the vans had the same t-shirts. And I did see the BMHA vans myself. Joe
So I knew that Mascia had indeed asked her about the matter, and it frustrated me to hear her claim otherwise: Was she lying or admitting that she hadn’t read email from one of her commissioners for three days? Either answer is bad.
At the beginning of the conversation, Sanders told me that there had been no BMHA vans at the event. I told her that I had independent corroboration that BMHA vans had been seen at the event, and asked her if she was contradicting those accounts on the record, as executive director of BMHA. She backed off and said she was not saying that. She said that BMHA was currently looking into the issue.
This should have pleased me, I guess, except it was merely a confirmation of exactly what I had written in the column: “Mascia asked BMHA’s executive director, Dawn Sanders, and its chairman, Mike Seaman, the same question. He was told they were looking into the matter.”
So why was Sanders scolding me? My story checked out.
I asked her, “So BMHA is indeed currently looking into the matter?”
She wouldn’t answer the question. (I recorded the conversation, but can’t listen to it as I write this, so I will not try to approximate her comments except to say she continued to insist that Mascia had never informed her of the issue.) This is a pet peeve of mine: the unwillingness of a public official to answer a simple question.
“Is BMHA currently looking into the matter?” I repeated, frustration creeping into my tone. “It’s a yes or no question.”
Hadn’t she just told me they were looking into it? Why wouldn’t she just say so?
“Yes or no?” I was almost shouting now.
I hung up, rose and put on my coat, told my fellow AV staffers I’d had enough for the day, and walked out the door.
Sorry, Dawn, I should not have hung up. That was rude. It was also counterproductive. I should have kept you on the line and talking.