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How Does Your Buffalo Councilmember Rank On Raising Substantive Issues?

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An important part of being a leader is taking the initiative to propose ideas. Every two weeks elected members of the Buffalo Common Council have the ability to file a resolution on any topic they want, have it discussed and voted on at a City Council meeting. It is an opportunity that many do not take full advantage of.

Most resolutions filed by City Councilmember’s address routine items of government and very few raise items of substance. Check out the analysis in the link below to see how your and other City Councilmembers rank as far as taking the initiative to propose substantive items.

http://artvoice.com/issues/v14n30/news_feature

 


Squaw Island Name Change? Thursday at Burning Books

According to Jodi-Lynn Maracle, a Mohawk from Tyendinaga who was born and raised in Buffalo, the name of the island that separates the Black Rock channel from the Niagara River should be changed from Squaw Island to something more traditional and in keeping with the territory’s history. She sent a strongly worded letter to the Buffalo Common Council arguing just that.

Maracle will be speaking on the topic this Thursday at 7pm at Burning Books, 420 Connecticut Street.

More from Two Row Times. Other events are planned to draw public attention to this issue.

01-09-2015SquawIsland


Buffalo Common Council 2013 Initiatives

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Our Elected Leaders Have An Open Floor For Proposing New Ideas

I understand that a big part of a Councilmember’s job is addressing constituent complaints and being accessible by attending community meetings. Most items addressed by any government body are the mundane and routine matters necessary to operate a municipality. However an important part of being a Councilmember is also being a legislator and a leader that raises important issues for consideration and discussion.

Every two weeks elected leaders at the village, town, city and county level meet and vote on how to run our local governments. At these bi-weekly meetings elected leaders have an open floor to raise any issue they want for discussion and action. Elected officials have the ability to be heard on any topic they wish and ask their colleagues for support.

 As I did in 2012, I reviewed every resolution filed by Buffalo Councilmembers in 2013. The Buffalo Common Council consists of nine elected members. The City Council meets approximately twenty-four times per year. In 2013, two hundred ninety nine resolutions were filed by Councilmembers, for an average of twelve resolutions per meeting. One hundred ninety three Council resolutions addressed the following:

80 – Waiving permit fees for block clubs and non-profit organizations (i.e. using city park, special events, band shell rental).

25  – Approve the issuance of bonds for capital budget projects.

 9- Symbolic support for a cause or federal/state legislation (Support World Wildlife Annual Earth Hour Campaign, Support Reducing Greenhouse Gas Pollution Under the Clean Air Act).

12 – Approving the hanging of street banners for community events.

5 – Support for various grant funding applications by community organizations.

5 – Trail blazing signs to name a city street after someone.

53 – Appointments of – marriage officers, boards, staff positions in the Council, Commissioner of Deeds

4 – Property tax waivers for various properties

In addition to the above 193 items, another 29 resolutions addressed routine matters of city government including property right of way items, budget transfers etc. None of these resolutions contained any new ideas or initiatives by Councilmembers.

Substantive Initiatives Raised By City Councilmembers

Only seventy seven Common Council resolutions addressed new ideas or concerns of a substantive nature regarding City government. The substantive resolutions filed in 2013 were:

Darius Pridgen (26 resolutions) – Public Safety Crosswalks, Sheehan Property & ECC Collaboration, Smoke Free Initiative, Amanda Lynn Hearing with Erie County Legislature, Investigation of Erie County Medical Center, Support Expanded Use of Coca Cola Field, Ordinance Amendment Chapter 413 Street and Sidewalks, Telecommunications Resolutions, Moratorium on Demolitions in the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor, Community Chess Project for Niagara Square, Formation of Fruit Belt Advisory Council, Ordinance Amendment Chapter 316 Peddling & Soliciting Street Vending, Council Approval for NFTA Bus Stop Changes That Effect Parking, Pedestrian Safety at 190 Ramp, Church Street and Bingham Adams Mark Hotel, Public Notice of Delinquent City of Buffalo Accounts, Trico Building Moratorium, Crime Prevention in Rental Units, Swimming in Unauthorized Areas, Neighborhood Watch and Block Club Training, Moratorium on Demolition- St. Ann’s Church, Prohibit Parking in Front of Buffalo City Court, Traffic Concerns During Events, Creation Special Zoning District Jefferson between Clinton & Genesee, Request New Sign Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Expressway, Student and Government Day Program Initiative, Impending Closure of the Market Arcade Film & Arts Center.

Richard Fontana (14 resolutions) – Audit on the Street Lighting System in the City, Formation of a Cat Task Force, Establish and Appointing Members to the Business Regulatory Task Force, Amend Charter Section 175 to Allow One Free Ton of Garbage at Transfer Station Per Year to Only Owner Occupied Dwellings, Ordinance Amendment Chapter 365-2 Acceptance of Scrap Refrigeration Units, Ordinance Amendment Chapter 175 Collection and Disposal Charges, Ordinance Amendment Amend Section 103-38 General Method of Demolition, Sale of Vacant Lot to Homeowners on Brinkman Ave., Telecommunications PEG Program Schedules, Penalty for Slum Landlord at 1258 E. Lovejoy, Ordinance Amendment Chapter 511 The Use of Map on City Zoning, Hold Independent In Rem Auction for Demolition, City Hall Security.

Demone Smith (10 resolutions) – Support for a Dome Stadium in Buffalo, Irregularities at the Erie County Board of Elections, Give Buffalo and WNY A Level Playing Field With NY Television and Film Production Tax Credits, Security Cameras in Taxicabs, Ordinance Amendment Chapter 154 Fair Employment Screening, Local Review and Approval of Liquor Store Licenses, Ordinance Amendment Sponsor Acknowledgment in MLK & Riverside Parks, Concerns Regarding Board of Education Signatures on Grants, Establish a Housing Policy Committee, Elimination of NFL Blackout Rules.

Joseph Golombek (10 resolutions) – Ordinance Amendment Chapter 316 Peddling & Soliciting Street Vending, Denial of Scrap Processors’ License for 409 Hertel, Ordinance Amendment Article IX Mobile Food Vehicle Vendors, Advocating for a No Kill Policy for Animal Shelters, Ordinance Amendment Chapter 437-6 Taxicab & Liveries, Move School Board Elections to November, Recycling Within BMHA Properties, Traffic Management of Border Crossings Between WNY and Canada, Invitation to ECC to Partner with City of Buffalo on Downtown Campus Expansion, Public Financing for City of Buffalo Elections,

Bonnie Russell (4 resolutions) – Procedure for Swearing in Certain Individuals Testifying Under Oath Before the Common Council, Denial of Food Store License Application for 3172 Bailey, Ordinance Amendment Chapter 263 Licenses, Ordinance Amendment Chapter 313 Peace and Good Order.

Michael Locurto (4 resolutions) – Reason for Denial of Food Store License Application 2248 Main Street, Exploring Funding Incentives for Development of Former North Park Library, Investigating Traffic Calming Measures for Starin Avenue, Exploring Participatory Budgeting in the City of Buffalo.

David Franczyk (4 resolutions) – Battaglia Transfer Station Application to NYS DEC 1037 Seneca, Protect Ornamental Landscaped Gardens, U.S. Post Office Removal of Postal Mail Boxes, Stem Advance of Blue Algae on Lake Erie.

Christopher Scanlon (3 resolutions) – Urge City of Buffalo to Reevaluate Their Relationships with Banks that Refuse to Be Responsible Neighbors, Amend Charter With Respect to Collection of Occupancy Taxes, Ordinance Amendment Section 309-17 Animals and Vehicles Restricted to Certain Areas,

David Rivera (2 resolutions) – Request Traffic Study Richmond Ave., Butler Mitchell Clubhouse Renovation Project.

Pridgen Taking The Most Initiative

Filing resolutions and having your resolutions passed and implemented are different discussions. In this article I am simply seeking to document what efforts Councilmembers took to raise an issue by being proactive enough to file a resolution to bring the item before the Council. The Councilmember taking the most initiative in 2013 at least according to filed resolutions was Darius Pridgen. Pridgen took the most initiative in 2012 as well. The Councilmember with the least initiative in 2013 was David Rivera. On one end of the spectrum Pridgen filed 26 resolutions whereas Rivera filed 2.

 The City of Buffalo Needs Bold New Ideas

Out of the above mentioned seventy seven items, very few are creative or innovative. We need leaders who are willing to initiate bold new ideas.

Former WNY resident Seth Godin, the author of many top selling books says the following about our fear of taking initiative in his book Poke The Box: “The simple thing that separates successful individuals from those who languish is the very thing that separates exciting and growing organizations from those that stagnate and die. The winners have turned initiative into a passion and a practice. The challenge, it turns out, isn’t in perfecting your ability to know when to start and when to stand by. The challenge is getting into the habit of starting.”

While this article focuses on the Buffalo Common Council, from my review of other local government meeting agendas there seems to be a lack of new ideas and new approaches being discussed and tried across the Buffalo region. Leadership is about taking initiative, the City of Buffalo and Western New York need elected leaders who are passionate about initiating new ideas.

www.reinventinggov.org


Pridgen Takes the Oath

With his parents as witnesses, Darius Pridgen takes the oath of office as 65th president of Buffalo's Common Council.

With his parents as witnesses, Darius Pridgen takes the oath of office as 65th president of Buffalo’s Common Council.

The political import of yesterday’s swearing-in of Reverend Darius Pridgen as president of Buffalo’s Common Council can be measured by any number of yardsticks. The size of the crowd and the celebratory atmosphere were the most obvious indicators: Never in recent memory has a reorganization filled the Council chambers with so vibrant and adoring a crowd.

And, like any much-anticipated entertainment (and, as one of Pridgen’s parishioners observed, like many Sunday morning services at True Bethel Baptist Church), it started late.

That crowd included number of influential African-American ministers and political figures, as well, and a couple rows full of current and former elected officials: Congressman Brian Higgins, State Senator Tim Kennedy, Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, Buffalo Comptroller Mark Schroeder, Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, Niagara Falls Councilman Charles Walker, Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs (who arrived late for the swearing-in but in time for the reception afterward), and James Pitts, the former Council president, whom Pridgen honored in his remarks as a pioneer among African-American politicians. (Pridgen is the fourth African-American president of the city’s Common Council; Pitts was the third, and the last to be voted president in a citywide election. Delmar Mitchell was the first, followed by George Arthur.) Pridgen also honored past president David Franczyk, councilman for the Fillmore District, and the outgoing president, Rich Fontana of Lovejoy, who wore a brave face through the proceedings.

In short, there was a lot of political weight in that peanut gallery. But there was a more modest measure of the event’s gravity, too, much easier to miss: Joe Jarzembek, with whom I shared an elevator to the 13th floor.

Jarzembek is a well-liked attorney who works for Erie County Family Court. A Democrat, he ran as an outsider candidate for Family Court judge this past fall. He lost, but not for lack of hard work: All last summer and fall, at any event where a dozen or more voters were likely to gather, you’d find Joe Jarzembek, handing out literature and shaking hands. He lobbied Democratic bosses of all the party’s factions for support; he went door-to-door, as all candidates must. He worked his tail off.

Still, he lost, largely because he was an outsider: Despite his efforts to win them over, the party bosses hitched their wagons to other horses. Now Jarzembek has his eyes on a vacancy in Buffalo City Court. And he recognized Pridgen’s swearing-in as the kind of event at which a candidate seeking office should be seen.

There were more than 300 people in Council chambers Thursday afternoon, despite arctic cold and lousy roads, to witness, and be witnessed at, Pridgen’s next step up in city politics. Many of those present—probably most—expect him to take another step up soon, to the mayor’s office. How many were there—like Jarzembek, but also like developer David Pawlik, for example—not only to pay their respects but because they have aspirations that they hope Pridgen will help them to achieve?


A Tool For Open Government

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Some cities like Oakland are committed to open government and some cities like Buffalo are not. In previous posts I have discussed the problem with obtaining information from the City of Buffalo.

The City of Oakland working with Code For America has created a great app called RecordTrac. RecordTrac provides an easy on-line tool for citizens to request information from city government in a way that is open for all to see. The response time from city departments is tracked, citizens can see the status of their requests and more importantly all requests and the information provided is available for everyone to see. Posting all requests allows citizens to search for information that has already been provided and saves city officials time in finding and responding to information requests.

Access to information is an important right that many politicians give lip service to but do not back up with policies and procedures that make obtaining information citizen friendly. Oakland and Code For America have created a great app that can be utilized by other communities. All Code for America apps utilize GitHub, allowing for the application to be easily and freely redeployed by other cities and government agencies.

RecordTrac seems like it would be a great tool to implement in all of our local governments in Western New York. What do you think?

www.reinventinggov.org


We Need Leaders To Set Goals & Measure Success

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A news headline in Chattanooga, Tennessee caught my eye as a headline I would like to see in Buffalo:

“Council members ask for clarity on desired outcomes of Mayor’s budget”

Most local governments do not have identified goals and objectives that they are working towards. As a former Chief of Staff to the Buffalo Common Council and a close follower of Council actions, it is a rare event that the Council talks about goals and objectives.

To Chattanooga’s credit the city of 171,000, governed by a nine member city council and Mayor has adopted a new method of handling budgets called Budgeting for Outcomes. Budgeting for Outcomes attempts to align the city’s available resources with community priorities.

Chattanooga’s newly elected Mayor campaigned on four key issues:

—public safety, economic and community development, youth and family development, and openness and transparency in government. In his budget, the mayor describes the four goals as “having safer streets; strong neighborhoods and growing communities; smarter students and stronger families; and an innovative, effective and efficient government.”

One of the important roles of a city council or county legislature is to establish policy goals and to monitor the achievement of such goals. We need our elected leaders to look at the big picture and create a vision for a better future. Instead most city councils and county legislatures get bogged down with addressing individual constituent concerns, administrative minutia and the crisis of the day.

As a result goals and objectives don’t get set or if established they are never revisited to determine success or failure. Successful people set goals and measure their performance, organizations need to do the same.

Budgeting for Outcomes is being used in the cities of: New Orleans, Baltimore, Roanoke. Counties using Budgeting for Outcomes include: Broward (Miami), Fairfax, VA, Mecklenburg (Charlotte).

The City of Buffalo is one of the poorest and  most dangerous cities in the nation, yet every a budget that directs hundreds of millions of dollars is passed without any discussion as to goals and an overall strategy to improve the city. A few years ago the citizens of Erie County, NY voted to amend the county charter by approving the use of performance budgeting. Although required by the county charter, performance based budgeting is not happening in Erie County.

We need leaders who are not afraid to set goals and to hold people accountable for achieving them. 

What do you think?


City Council Masters of Minutia

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Buffalo City Council members meet every two weeks to take actions on the many different issues and items that come before them. Councilmembers have the ability to raise any new ideas or concerns they have by filing  a resolution, which will bring the item before the full Council.

As I wrote about in a previous ArtVoice article, Councilmembers file very few resolutions that propose new ideas or items of substance. The most common resolution filed by Councilmembers is a request to waive permit fees for community organizations or block clubs putting on special events. Last year 40 such resolutions were done, which made up 13% of the resolutions filed by Councilmembers. At the July 23, 2013, Council meeting 14 of these resolutions waiving permit fees were filed (see list below).

Franczyk – Waive Special Event Permit Fee for Artists and Cyclists Event 

Francyzk -Waive Special Event Permit Fee and Park Permit Fee for “Squeaky Wheel Outdoor Animation Festival” 

Francyzk – Waive Event Permit Fee and Park Permit Fee for “Sperry Park Unity Day” 

Golombek – Waive Special Event Permit Fee for New York Walleye Kids Fishing Derby

LoCurto – Subaru Chase Band Shell Fee Waiver Resolution 

LoCurto – Waive Permit Fees for Summer Music Series in Delaware Park 

Pridgen – Special Events Waiver Permit Fee for the 8th Annual Queen City Jazz City Festival 

Pridgen – Special Events Waiver Permit Fee for the 16th Annual Parade Proclaiming Buffalo for Christ 

Pridgen – Special Events Waiver Permit Fee for Chalkfest Buffalo 

Pridgen – Special Events and LaSalle Park & Pavilion Waiver Permit Fees for BreakOut and Love Buffalo

Rivera – Waive of Permit Fees for Primera Iglesia Metodista Undia Christian Youth Festival 

Scanlon – Waive Event Fees for the YMCA Cazenovia Park Camp 

Scanlon – Waive Special Event Fee for the 2013 S. Park Italian Festival 

Scanlon – Waive Special Event and Permit Fees for Seneca Nation Day in South Buffalo 

Councilmembers like being asked for a favor and when a community group asks to have the cost of permit fees waived for their event, I don’t think such a request has ever been denied. I am sure that these are all great community events but instead of having time spent drafting and filing a resolution and then taking time up at a Council meeting, perhaps such requests can be directed to an appropriate City office for processing. The City Code could be amended if necessary to state that community organizations can have permit fees waived for an event by submitting a request to a specified department for approval.

The City of Buffalo as one of the poorest cities in the country has so many issues that the Council could focus on by proposing and debating new policies. Instead the Council gets involved in busy work minutiae that could be handled by administrative staff members. In addition to waiving permit fees, the Council approves all deli store licenses, used car lot licenses, pawn store licenses, restaurant licenses etc. 

Administrative staff should take care of processing and approving administrative paper work. The City Council should be where policy goals and objectives are debated. The Council spends so much time mastering minutiae that it is difficult for members to focus on the bigger picture.

What do you think? Is it important for City Councilmembers to address waiving permit fees for community organizations or should that task be delegated to the staff of a City department? 

www.reinventinggov.org


Tucker Curtin versus the Food Trucks

You’d think that a restaurateur would welcome some competition. You’d think that a diner, when confronted with a popular hamburger food truck, would make a better hamburger to compete. Or tout the fact that it serves booze. You’d think that a person with a monopoly on food on Buffalo’s Outer Harbor would have some self-awareness about it. 

According to Jill Terreri in the Buffalo News, Buffalo restaurateur Tucker Curtin wants Buffalo’s food trucks to operate under much more stringent regulations than any other food business in town, than they operate under currently, and than most trucks in most cities operate. Tucker Curtin owns the Steer, Lake Effect Diner, and Dug’s Dive – all three reasonably forgettable purveyors of mediocre crap, sometimes done up in a trendy way. 

Curtin, whose restaurants I will never again patronize, retained counsel to agitate for rules that include:

– no food truck may operate within 100 feet of any private property of any sort without express permission of the owner or tenants;

– no food truck may park within 25 feet of a hydrant, intersection, or driveway to a lot with more than 10 spots;

– all food trucks must have a restaurant license.

– all food truck workers must have a peddler’s license. Everyone from the kid who heats up your tortilla to the person who writes the ticket;

– that trucks operate under special restrictions on Elmwood and Hertel, not just Buffalo Place;

The trucks in Buffalo pay a $1,000 fee for an annual permit for the privilege of serving food from a mobile unit that has none of the advantages of brick and mortar restaurants. This is about three times what trucks pay in most other cities, and the restrictions effectively forbid them from operating where the people are. Buffalo Place and downtown Buffalo is effectively cut off to them unless they pay another thousand-plus-dollar permit fee –  for the privilege of an inconvenient spot far from where people are.  On Elmwood and Hertel, it’s not easy finding a legal spot when people are out and about.

Curtin’s motives are unknown, but what he is attempting to accomplish amounts to nothing more than protectionism and anticompetitive behavior in a town not noted for its business friendliness or open-mindedness. The fact that the current ordinance was passed was amazing. The fact that it’s too restrictive and too expensive is something that needs to be remedied – not worsened. Tucker Curtin’s restaurants aren’t able to compete effectively with sliders from the Knight Slider truck, so he is going to war. 

I don’t quite want to hear about how Curtin has the right to say or lobby for what he wants. I don’t quite want to hear that he may have a point. He does have the right to agitate for what he wants, and I have a right to despise what he wants and to criticize it. Likewise, I don’t think he has a point at all. If your restaurant serves food that is so forgettably mediocre that a slider truck cleans your clock, maybe you should step up your game instead of lobbying your pals on the Common Council to punish your competition. It is, quite frankly, a prime example of what’s wrong with Buffalo. 




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