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Council awaits Brown plan to reform Housing Authority

Mayor Byron W. Brown was scheduled to unveil a plan today to reform the problem-plagued Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, and Common Council members said they will look for actions that will bring concrete changes.

Some lawmakers say they want Brown to remove current housing commissioners to make way for a "fresh start." Others are clamoring for a criminal probe into allegations of misspending by some commissioners.

Council members met Tuesday with the city's chief auditor to discuss the latest report that criticizes the authority, which is responsible for 27 housing developments with more than 7,000 residents.

An audit by City Comptroller Andrew A. SanFilippo painted an alarming picture of an agency plagued by weak oversight, poor internal controls and questionable spending. SanFilippo's audit follows a scathing federal report that depicted the authority as allowing its governing to run amok, intimidating some employees and tolerating huge cell phone bills and other questionable expenditures of money intended to combat poverty.

Council President David A. Franczyk said a review of the reports leads to only one conclusion.

"This is the kind of organization that could screw up a two-car funeral," Franczyk said Tuesday during a meeting of the Council's Finance Committee.

Frank Belliotti, the city's chief auditor, said the comptroller's review pinpointed problems ranging from lax controls at gasoline pumps to shoddy oversight of some travel expense accounts.

Council Majority Leader Dominic J. Bonifacio Jr. said he believes the mayor should seriously consider removing housing commissioners so the authority can make a "fresh start."

"There's too much abuse of federal tax dollars here," he said.

University Council Member Bonnie E. Russell agreed that trying to reform an authority with the same policy-makers at the table could be futile.

"Old habits are very hard to break," she said.

The seven-member board now has three vacancies. Neither Brown nor his staffers would provide insights on his "action plan" to reform the authority. But some have speculated that the mayor would announce appointments to some or all of the vacant seats at today's news conference.


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