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Refunds for police exams Returning the $25 test fees is the least the city can do

Memo to the Brown administration: Just give back the money, OK? The bad publicity and the whiff of bad faith aren't worth the $32,000 you'd get to keep, less the possible legal expenses. Let's not make this the car-towing kerfuffle all over again.

At best, out-of-towners who took the Buffalo police test in April had been left confused over their prospects for employment. At worst, they were strung along while the city sorted out its legal ability to hire nonresidents. Either way, they are out much more than the $25 they ponied up to take the exam. Give back the money and call it a lesson learned.

The mess began with a forward-looking effort by the city to attract the best police candidates possible. City officials recruited across the country, looking for promising candidates to take the police exam. The problem is that the city has long been under federal court supervision to provide more opportunities for female and minority officers.

That court oversight always had the potential to limit the pool from which the city could hire, and that's how it worked out. The court has said that to meet guidelines, the city must hire only city residents. All of the test-takers who had not lived 90 days in Buffalo by the date of the exam are flat out of luck, regardless of how well they scored on it.

The question is whether noncity applicants were fully aware that they might be wasting their time -- and their $25 -- by taking the test. The tempest that has erupted offers persuasive evidence they were not. Some are talking of filing a class-action lawsuit, which may seem silly given the $25 application fee, but anyone who has ever been abused by a bureaucracy knows the feeling: They've been manhandled and they want redress.

Delaware Common Council Member Michael J. LoCurto had it right after many residents paid a $40 towing fee even though their cars were never towed, and he has it right now. In both cases, he said, the city should simply give the money back.

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