Tag Archives: City government

The Buffalo Question

11 Aug

I’d like to pose a couple of questions to the entirety of Western New York.

  • As a city, what are we doing well? Do we excel at anything?
  • As a region, what are we doing well? Do we excel at anything?
  • What broad based municipal goal(s) are we moving toward?
  • How will we know when we’ve achieved that goal?
  • Who is measuring progress towards achievement?
  • Who is held accountable if we fail to achieve that goal?
  • What do we want to look like as a region in 2020?

Let’s start with government for now and we’ll use Chicago as an example.

Ten years ago, Mayor Daley’s stated strategic goal was to build one of the most diverse economic environments in the world. A healthy mix of financial services, education, health care, construction, manufacturing, retail, etc.

He believed that planning for such an environment ultimately creates the opportunity for arts and culturals to succeed and a tax base is grown to foster the delivery of public services. This is all done in the confines of a greater regional framework in which the city exports wealth to the suburbs. They value urban planning and place a premium on excellence. Their approach is such that the government creates the opportunity for the market to thrive. Unlike Buffalo, most decisions in a city like Chicago are not made on an ad hoc basis; there is a vision, plan, goals and success. Measurement and accountability? Fuck, it’s Chicago, no one is held accountable. But, they get the bigger picture.

Or lets focus on our neighbors to the near north, Toronto. Those crazy canadians are silly with plans.

Here is the strategic vision laid out for 2010 by the Mayor.

Building upon that framework of ideas, the city council and other city agencies built their own plans and established measurable goals and markers for progress.

Chicago and Toronto are models for planning excellence. What can we learn from them? What are we doing that is similar? In this instance, size of the metro doesn’t matter, it’s the planning and the execution.

So, as a city and region, what are we doing well? Are we marching toward an overarching, unified goal?

We might be doing something well in town/city/county government, arts and culturals, urban planning, economic development, private sector business, anything.  Seriously, what are we doing well?

This exercise has a dual purpose.

  1. If we can’t readily identify what it is that we are doing well, we have a larger problem.  We’ll need leadership interested in setting goals, establishing measurements for progress and building a consensus to accomplish them.
  2. If we can identify a core list of successes, we should find ways to transfer the methodology to other projects and issues.

This month marks six years since I moved back to Buffalo. After all of that time, I’m still not certain what it is we are trying to accomplish in this region. Nor do I know who is empowered to make decisions to move the region forward. Nor do I know if anyone is doing anything well.

So, lots of questions, but a jumping off for a discussion for the rest of the week.

Mayor Brown’s Reaction to NRP Accusations

2 Jul

Allegations have been leveled against the Brown Administration that it required a prospective Cleveland-based developer of rental properties on Buffalo’s East Side to pay off some of Brown’s supporters and allies for the privilege. Basically, racketeering. At this point, Here’s what the Mayor had to say about it.

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Protest Red Light Cameras with Shredd & Ragan

23 Mar

Last month, I wrote about Buffalo’s push to install red light cameras at key intersections throughout the city. Far from being a safety measure, these cameras are nothing but a cash cow for the city.

And they don’t work – at least, not from the safety side, anyway:

Rather than improving motorist safety, red-light cameras significantly increase crashes and are a ticket to higher auto insurance premiums, researchers at the University of South Florida College of Public Health conclude. The effective remedy to red-light running uses engineering solutions to improve intersection safety, which is particularly important to Florida’s elderly drivers, the researchers recommend.

The Shredd & Ragan show is organizing a protest Tuesday – be in McKinley Niagara Square, in front of City Hall at 1:30pm.

EDIT: The release I received called it “McKinley” Square and I didn’t change it because I figured people could figure it all out.

Back to the Drawing Board

19 Mar

Remember how a 30-something Amherst native now living in Seattle was going to come and be Buffalo’s new planning czar?

Never mind.

(Emily Litella – the patron saint of Buffalo’s good ideas)

You Say You Want A Revolution: Redux

18 Mar
Photo by Sharyn Brunner via Flickr

Photo by Sharyn Brunner via Flickr

Well, you know.

We all want to change the world.

Before you read on, take a gander at my recounting of a Buffalo mayoral debate held in August 2005.

Buffalo City Councilman Joe Golombek is concerned that Buffalo’s current form of government has been in existence since 1927, and it hasn’t exactly set the world on fire with excellence. At least, not since Buffalo’s mid-20th century heyday.

Golombek invited Darnell Earley, the city manager for Saginaw, MI, and incoming President of the International City/County Manager Association, to speak to the media, city government, and the people of Buffalo about the possibility of adopting a manager/council form of city government.

Golombek, together with Jimmy Griffin, first proposed a city manager back during the Masiello days. The proposal went nowhere, but he’s determined to try and get needed changes to the city charter before Buffalo voters sooner rather than later.

Earley stresses that in order to reform how government is managed, you have to introduce merit and professionalism. Instead, the system we have now invites patronage, nepotism, and “pay to play”. A full-time, professional city manager handles the day to day operations of a municipality, enabling the mayor to become more of an ambassador for the city.

Think of Buffalo and Erie County, and you think of our deeply divided politics. And that’s just in the Democratic Party. The hyper-political environment extant in both governments breeds a lot of stuff, but little of it is positive. While there’s nothing wrong with partisan politics, when it comes down to actually managing the city, what experience do our elected officials have in actually doing that? Earley likened Buffalo to a corporation with a $500 million budget – which it technically is. We entrust the executive branch to Byron Brown, who went from the city council to the state senate, managing a staff in the single digits all along the way. Then, when he becomes mayor, all of a sudden he’s managing thousands of people, and hundreds of millions of dollars.

What if the city could hire an experienced, credentialed professional to do that?

Earley explains that, as city manager, he is on the front lines 24/7, handling the concerns and needs of city officials, citizens, and city departments as they come, without regard to partisan politics or turf. His performance is tracked and measured. His knowledge base includes training and education in public administration, government finance, the law, economics, business development, and human resources.

The only issues are service-oriented. Not political.

Although you would retain a political system to set policy, it would be the administrator’s job to run things – the nuts and bolts of it. There are three competing dynamics under a city manager system; political, administrative, and community. Under our system, the political and administrative are joined, and that causes a lot of our problems. Do our elected officials have to adhere to any ethical standards or receive continuing education? An ICMA-trained manager does.

In order to do this, a referendum must be held. A vote by 5 councilmembers brings one about, and if the mayor vetoes it, 6 total votes on the council are needed.

Back when there was talk of hiring a county manager, one of the big concerns had to do with candidate selection. Earley explains that municipalities retain headhunters to find qualified candidates, and the mayor and each councilmember get one vote.

But remember when the city hired someone to manage CitiStat, and she didn’t last long in part due to the political atmosphere in City Hall? One of the changes to the charter would make it a misdemeanor for elected or appointed political officials to interfere in the city manager’s day to day operations. That means a department head can’t try and strong-arm the city manager to do anything or hire anyone based on political backscratching or other reasons. It would be a crime.

OK, so let’s say the city council passes this, and the referendum is put before the people. You can imagine that loads of unions and special interests will balk at a system that doesn’t play favorites. They’ll mount a massive anti-manager advertising campaign. Personalities in government may join in. While certainly some people or groups (Carl Paladino? Responsible New York?) could potentially advocate for the proposal, it’s important when doing so to avoid criticizing individuals and naming names. Instead, promote the ideals of reform, progress, a better way to run the city free from political failure and favoritism.

Audio from Earley’s remarks to members of the media before we ordered lunch:

[audio:http://wnymedia.net/podcasts/citymanager.mp3%5D

UPDATE: I said I’d weigh in after you guys did. All 8 of you.

I think a professional city & county manager is an idea whose time has come. Buffalo and Western New York are so hyper-politicized that when people try to do the right thing, vultures from the other side are waiting to gnaw on their dead carcasses, if they’re not actively participating in the killing. In the county, it’s Repubs vs. Dems. In the city it’s Hoyt – Lenihanistan vs. Casey – Pigeonistas.

It’s all fun and games until someone actually has to run a government.

And then what? What is the skillset that an elected politician brings to the table that enables him to operate a billion-dollar business like county government or a half-billion dollar business like the city? Yes, Chris Collins has run companies, but he’s run into some obstacles due to the fact that when you run a privately-held company, you’re the king. When you run county government, you’re co-equal with the legislature. Byron Brown was a legislator who ran a small staff with a small budget when he was on the city council and in the state senate. If you’ll recall, the only legislation he ever submitted in the senate had to do with re-naming some streets.

By using a professional manager in addition to an elected figurehead mayor, we can ensure that politics becomes a de minimis part of the overall governmental equation. By hiring a certified, trained, experienced professional, decisions relating to the operation of city government are done through objective criteria. Demone Smith’s outbursts about bonding issues would no longer happen. Yes, there would be a cost involved, but overall the savings derived from having someone at the helm who actually knows what the hell he’s doing would offset it.

If you combine an effective use of CitiStat (we don’t have that now – it’s just a dog & pony show) with a professional city manager, you get measurable results that will be evaluated on a continual basis.

On the county side, I don’t see the point of a County Executive as a “figurehead”. There’s just no point. Although I think county government needs extinction rather than reform, by subtracting politics and personal political or financial interest from the equation of running the county, we get less nonsense. Seriously, the county only controls a very small portion of its annual budget anyway. We pay a great many people a great many dollars to decide how to spend 10% of its annual budget, the remainder being pre-ordained. Think of it this way – there seems to be zero political will in county government right now to implement performance-based budgeting. This despite the fact that the people of Erie County overwhelmingly voted in favor of it in 2007 when the charter was revised. If we had a professional city manager, the law would be implemented. Now? It’s a political pain in the ass and no one feels like doing it, so it doesn’t get done.

I am sick and tired of elected politicians having to concentrate more on donor constituencies rather than actual constituencies. A professional manager does not have that concern.

As a final selling point, the fact that political interference with the manager’s duties becomes a punishable crime guarantees that politics stays out of governing.

Both the county and the city need to take a step back, look at our governing situation with some detached objectivity, and realize that professionalism and accountability is what’s needed here. Not worrying whether, at the end of the day, the winner is Pigeon, Lenihan, or Domagalski.

The Smell of Defamation In the Morning

18 Feb
Horseshit: click to embiggen

What a load of horseshit

UPDATED: Gramigna has retracted what he wrote, and what his source told him. That’s appreciated, but still horseshit.

Apart from this morning, when I called him in a rage, I can honestly say that I’ve never exchanged a single word with Gramigna, despite having helped him promote his dreck-laden site when he started it. His business model is: get local politicians to buy ads, print positive crap about them and negative crap about their opponents. Look for an alternative to completely decimate that business model, coming soon.

If I had written the offending emails – which I didn’t – I would have reprinted them last summer, when they were originally sent. They are alleged to have been sent by Mr. Gramigna’s newest advertising client, Syaed Ali. But I didn’t print them last summer. Indeed, I alluded to them a couple of times only in an off-handed manner. I had theories as to who might have been sending them, but someone in law enforcement somehow landed on Mr. Ali, and he alleges that he was subsequently placed into custody and that his belongings have been confiscated. I’ve gone on record saying that, if what Ali said is true, it’s a grave injustice.

Furthermore, if I had sent them, I wouldn’t have pimped them to mainstream media – I would have posted them on my site contemporaneously so that the TV and other reporters would give me linkage and credit.

But I didn’t write them, I wouldn’t have written them, I have nothing to gain from writing them, and never in my wildest dreams would ever conceive of writing something like that about anyone, much less an elected official.

For Gramigna, acting apparently as a conduit for the flailing Ali, to even suggest that I was behind those emails is a disgrace – and a defamatory one, at that.

I have my disagreements with the Brown administration – I don’t like their secrecy, I don’t like their sense of entitlement, I don’t like their Machiavellian machinations to try and upset ECDC and its endorsed candidates, and I don’t necessarily think that they do the best job for Buffalo. That doesn’t mean I would ever stoop so low as to spread vicious, defamatory rumors about him or his officials.

Is Pundit Behind Phoney Brown E-Mails?…What A Surprise!…Davis Gets Off!
Written by Glenn Gramigna, Editor

SOURCE WONDERS IF SELF PROCLAIMED PUNDIT REALLY BEHIND SLANDEROUS BROWN E-MAILS…WAS DAVIS TREATED LIKE ANY OTHER CITIZEN?…RELIGIOUS BIGOTRY ALIVE AND WELL ON LOCAL BLOGS

Any fireman will tell you that the first person who shows up to gawk at an arson fire is often the arsonist. Accordingly, one of our grey bearded sources is wondering if those wonderful guys who were nice enough to publish all those completely phoney and slanderous alleged e-mails involving Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown might not have been also their source.

“Isn’t it funny that the Pundit guys still had this junk after most others had long since deleted this junk,” he or she asks. “Also their chronic grammar mistakes and the ones contained in the bogus e-mails are similar…It kind of makes a fella wonder…”

Speaking of this and other local blogs, we understand that religious bigotry is alive and well these days on several of them. Blaming Islam for that horrible beheading incident in Orchard Park recently is like blaiming the Book of Revelations for OJ Simpson’s crimes. Are we really going to go down the road of religious ignorance and intolerance again?

I don’t even want to touch the relgious bigotry comment.

But what I did do is link to a post that Buffalo Geek wrote on the WNYMedia.net front page.

This, however, is my favorite part of Gramigna/Ali’s accusation:

Also their chronic grammar mistakes and the ones contained in the bogus e-mails are similar…It kind of makes a fella wonder

Gee, that sounds eerily like what a commenter wrote here, at Artvoice, regarding the writing style of the IMs posted, and text on Ali’s company’s website. I’m pretty anal about grammar and spelling – more so than Gramigna – so, I challenge Gramigna and his source to back up the statement that I make “chronic grammar mistakes”. That’s almost as offensive as suggesting I sent out the emails in question.

I think what pissed Mr. Gramigna’s source off is this last comment I wrote:

Whoever sent these emails last summer is an idiot, and an unimaginative one, to boot. These could have been made believable. To call this clumsy is an insult to clumsy things.

I’ll say it clearly and succinctly – whoever fed Glenn Gramigna the notion that I wrote the offending emails is the person who wrote the offending emails. Flushing that person out is precisely why I wrote those insulting lines.

New City Planner for Buffalo

12 Feb

Mayor Byron W. Brown announced the appointment of Michael R. Kimelberg, AICP, LEED AP as City Planner.

“As my choice for a permanent City Planner, I looked for someone who has extensive experience in urban planning, notably leading zoning code rewrites in various municipalities across the country,” said Mayor Brown. “Michael Kimelberg has extensive experience in that critically important area. As our new City Planner, Mike will also focus on all matters of design and regulation.”

Michael Kimelberg’s career has been both as a private sector consulting urban designer and planner to businesses and as a planner for the City of Seattle. He has helped businesses from both sides of that spectrum and worked extensively with neighborhoods and communities to ensure new development met residents’ needs and desires. He is a LEED Accredited Professional, having worked on several green projects in the Pacific Northwest and has incorporated smart growth principles and sustainable building and planning practices in ways that both create a sense of place and make communities greener.

“In the future, the development community and communities of interest in our neighborhoods can expect to see our many plans re-tooled to reinforce our vision for the city, outlined in the Queen City Hub plan,” said Brian Reilly, Commissioner of Economic Development. “The development process in Buffalo has long suffered from unclear, fragmented and unpredictable conditions for development. Higher quality design will play a key role in regulatory reform. In his role within the Department of Economic Development, Mike will drive our regulations toward simplicity, and will institute a level of design excellence throughout the city.”

A native of the Buffalo area, Michael Kimelberg is a graduate of SUNY Geneseo and earned a Master’s in Urban Planning from the University of Washington. He will earn $79,000 in his position as City Planner.

Robert Shibley, founder of the University at Buffalo’s Urban Design Project and lead consultant on the City of Buffalo’s award-winning Queen City Hub master plan and representatives of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, the region’s leading business advocacy organization, participated with the Mayor’s Administration in the review process for the City Planner position.

“Up until now, conflicting city plans and regulations have left both businesses and the community unsure of the development process and its outcomes,” said Mayor Brown. “What you can expect with the appointment of Mike Kimelberg is more clarity, transparency and predictability in the city’s planning process.

All-Out War on Syaed Ali

16 Jan

Glenn Gramigna has two stories detailing the apparently illegal harassment that Ali suffered at the hands of law enforcement because he allegedly sent out some emails accusing Byron Brown of teh gay and Joe Illuzzi of soliciting blow from Steve Casey. All of those emails were so over-the-top that they were patently false to any objective observer. I’m sure the Mayor was pissed beyond belief, but it doesn’t mean you break the law. Two wrongs, etc.

HT Dick Kern

Citistat, Six Sigma, and Failure

11 Dec

BuffaloGeek compares & contrasts the county’s and city’s initiatives to document and improve various governmental processes, and the efforts to lurch WNY government out of its perpetual state of 1950s-ism.

The process to reserve a shelter at a county park takes 72 separate steps. Seventy-two. Six Sigma is supposed to help the County figure out ways to streamline that process, make it cheaper and more customer-friendly.

In the meantime, while the county is looking into streamlining, “CitiStat” appears to be an utter and complete waste of space and time, with no real dissemination of information. For instance, if you want to find out what the sewer department does, you’ll find it via CitiStat.

If, however, Citistat is designed to be a process improvement program that documents workflow and identifies areas for improvement and cost savings, I’m not really seeing it.

And if that’s true, then what on Earth is the point of the program?

Brown’s Camp Expels Garrett, Hoyt Responds

3 Dec

I briefly touched upon the story that Harvey Garrett had been unceremoniously ousted from the board of West Side Neighborhood Housing Services by a junta’s worth of Brown loyalists.

Remember – during Masiello’s administration, thugs fire-bombed Garrett’s home. Now, the inability of local politicians to be criticized or made to look like they’re not the sole answer to questions posed by weary, struggling western New Yorkers has led to another blow against Garrett, who doesn’t make any politician look good.

Never one to let a dumb Brown-camp deed go un-responded-to, Sam Hoyt pulls WSNHS’s funding made via his office and the Assembly.

37 people—many of whom had joined on the last day they could join and still vote, and who also happen live outside of the west side and work for the City of Buffalo—submitted absentee ballots to remove Mr. Garrett from the board. It is this politicization that troubles me most of all.

Hoyt’s entire letter after the jump. Continue reading