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Common Council Action Plan

As promised here, we’re posting the Common Council of Buffalo’s 2008-2009 Action Plan. (God knows why.) Seriously though, it’s worth a quick scan. My favorite part is at the beginning, in which we learn what the Romans had in common with Buffalonians.

Have you guessed it yet?

Both sacked their own cities:

…The assumption may reasonably be made that the fall of Rome, with the corresponding loss of its great buildings, was caused by invading barbarian armies bent on loot and destruction. From the time of the “Sack of Rome” by the Vandal Alaric in 410, to invading German mercenaries in the 16th century, it is presumed that the awe-inspiring structures of antiquity were pulled down, burned, ravaged and pulverized by conquering outsiders. The startling reality is that the destruction of Rome was not mainly carried out by rampaging armies during time of war, but most of the monuments and structures were destroyed by the Romans themselves! Over centuries the Roman people pulled down the marble statues, temples, basilica and baths. They tore these great buildings down and fed the marble into furnaces to produce lime. Other buildings were knocked down piecemeal by wealthy aristocrats to adorn their Renaissance palaces, to be seen only by a few. Save for the ancient Roman fascisti symbol of the bound ax and sticks adorning Buffalo’s ornate Council Chambers, what parallel does the destruction of Rome in centuries past have to do with the Queen City of the Lakes in the 21st century?

The answer is, just like the Romans, Buffalonians at times have been responsible for demolishing, tearing down or destroying the City’s architectural heritage. And this destruction still continues, although with greater difficulty due to the resistance of preservationists who grasp the importance of the City’s rich built environment to future generations.

This must be the writing of Council President Dave Franczyk.

The Raucous Caucus: Politics Vs. Substance

Two weeks ago, during the April 29 Common Council meeting, Masten District Councilmember Demone Smith threw a bit of a fit. The previous Friday, the Common Council had released its annual action plan, and Smith complained he’d been given inadequate time to review that plan and had not received a personal invitation to take part in its public release.

Don’t worry about what this “action plan” is. It’s pretty close to meaningless. What’s important is that Smith, who is one of four councilmembers who comprise a minority bloc, felt slighted by the five-member majority bloc. He accused them of freezing out him and his three fellow bloc members, though none of the other three joined him in his complaint.

Council President Dave Franczyk and Lovejoy District Councilmember Rich Fontana tried to head off Smith’s indignation, arguing that every member of council had received drafts of the plan and invitations to the unveiling by email, to which Smith replied, “Everybody knows my email doesn’t work.” (“Get it fixed,” Franczyk said.) Franczyk said they’d discussed the plan in legislative caucus—the closed [note: I stand corrected, the caucus is open] meeting of councilmembers in which all the voting in the public session is predetermined—but Smith had not attended. (“All I ask is that councilmembers take some responsibility,” Franczyk said.)

But Smith was tapping into his own deep vein of resentment: Ever since last November’s Common Council elections, he’s been in the minority, whereas when he took over the empty Masten seat from the departing Antoine Thompson, he was part of a solid majority aligned with Mayor Byron Brown. It’s no fun to go from starter to second string.

By the end of the exchange, Franczyk and Smith were talking over each other heatedly, and Smith said that if the new majority was going to trample over the other councilmembers, then maybe the minority bloc would have to create it’s own legislative caucus.

What that would accomplish is not clear, apart from creating another set of meetings closed to public scrutiny for councilmembers to miss. But last Thursday Smith filed this letter with the City Clerk offering a rough outline of a proposal for a new legislative caucus, which he calls the “Progressive Caucus of the Common Council of Buffalo,” which “will make the Common Council of the City of Buffalo more democratic by creating an additional center of legislative power that promotes cooperation.”

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.

Buffalo Budget Hearings

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown has proposed a budget that cuts property tax rates by 4.8 percent and holds the line of garbage fees. If you want to know how he did it, you can read Artvoice in the coming weeks. Or you can find out for yourself—check out this schedule budget hearings.