A new citizen rights commission created to monitor complaints of police misconduct and improve race relations in Buffalo warned last week that bureaucratic delays in hiring an investigator could impede its efforts.
Members of the Commission on Citizen Rights and Community Relations complained that a request to fill a key position has been stalled for nearly a month, despite numerous meetings with a representative from the mayor's office.
"If we're really a city that is committed to human rights, then this kind of thing should be happening quickly," said attorney Ross T. Runfola, a commission member. "If we're waiting three weeks, then that's three weeks too long."
The board passed a resolution Thursday that Runfola said will "send a clear message" to city officials that the commission does not intend to be fettered by governmental red tape.
But Vincent J. LoVallo, chief of staff to Mayor Anthony M. Masiello, dismissed as "baloney" any implication that the administration is dragging its feet on the commission's push to hire a field representative.
LoVallo said the delay has occurred largely because the commission has proposed an increase of about $15,000 in salary for the new position. He said such actions cannot be approved without following proper procedures, including a review of Civil Service job titles. The commission proposes increasing the salary to $39,189.
"Nobody is trying to stop anything," said LoVallo. "This administration has fully supported the commission and all of its initiatives."
The commission was created by the new City Charter in 1999, which empowered the mayor to appoint the 11 members, subject to Common Council confirmation. The panel's duties include developing citywide programs to improve relations among the city's diverse ethnic and religious communities and investigate claims of bias and police misconduct.
Under the charter, the commission is entitled to three paid staffers: an executive director, a secretary and a field representative. The latter position will help gather information about
complaints that allege bias or misconduct and be involved in other outreach efforts. The commission is empowered to conduct public hearings, take testimony under oath and make recommendations for dealing with specific incidents.
At a commission meeting Thursday, Executive Director Rita Hubbard-Robinson told members she was increasingly frustrated by delays in her attempts to get the administration to take the budgetary action necessary to make the hire.
"It shouldn't take 30 minutes to think this thing through," said Hubbard-Robinson.
LoVallo said Friday that staffers are working to move the item through the proper channels as quickly as possible and he predicted the matter would be resolved soon.
Officials said the job opening has been posted and publicized. They said the commission is reviewing resumes and is ready to proceed with hiring.
Over the past two months, the commission has been meeting with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to learn more about the processes that are used to deal with claims of police misconduct. Members recently met with Bernard A. Tolbert, who heads the regional office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The commission's goals in the coming months include developing a complaint form to be used by citizens who have complaints not yet resolved by the city.