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COUNCIL SEEKS ROLE IN PLANNING CHIEF CHOICE

The Common Council has set the stage for a referendum on restoring lawmakers' power to confirm or reject the mayor's choice for planning chief.

In a 7-2 vote Tuesday, the Council passed a law that would reverse a charter reform approved six years ago. Voters authorized a change that created a new strategic planning director who was no longer subject to Council confirmation and who had broader oversight over long-term planning.

Masten Council Member Antoine M. Thompson thinks the planning czar should be subject to confirmation by lawmakers every four years. He said requiring one of the city's most important officials to come before the Council and articulate "visions, goals and values" is critical.

Majority Leader Marc A. Coppola agreed, challenging assertions that the revision has taken politics out of strategic planning.

"We're seeing more politics," insisted Coppola, claiming the change gives the mayor too much power over how money is spent and diminishes accountability. But Niagara Council Member Dominic J. Bonifacio Jr. and North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. oppose the about-face. Golombek said Buffalo needs a planning chief who doesn't feel compelled to appease "mini-mayors" as he charts long-term plans and allocates federal anti-poverty funds.

"As long as we continue to fight about block grants and use them for political purposes, we're never going to rebuild this city," he said.

Mayor Anthony M. Masiello said Tuesday that he wants to review the law before he takes a formal stand. Last month, he implied that he views the Council's effort as a step backward. However, even if the mayor opposes the change, seven Council votes would make it vetoproof.

The Council also approved a settlement with Adelphia to resolve a dispute over the company's underpayment of cable franchise fees. The settlement would give the city $235,540, most of which will be passed on to subscribers.

Cable bills will increase by about 12 cents a month for two years. Company officials said the action is justifiable because franchise fees it collected from subscribers were lower than what they should have been.

In other actions Tuesday, the Council:

Cleared the way for Buffalo City Mission to build an expanded homeless shelter and temporary apartments for women and children. Lawmakers approved a plan to sell land at North Street and Michigan Avenue to accommodate a new facility that will replace the Cornerstone Manor on Carlton Street. Officials expect to break ground this spring on a $9 million center that will double Cornerstone's capacity to at least 122 people.

Approved the creation of an oversight panel to monitor operations in city-owned parks. Buffalo has contracted with Erie County to run its parks, playgrounds and recreation centers.

Called on police officers to increase enforcement of the noise ordinance.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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