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City Hall squabbling ; Statesmen, not costly lawyers, needed in dispute over South Buffalo project

No one can call Byron W. Brown a slow learner.

Buffalo's mayor has picked up quickly on Chris Collins' strategy for dealing with pesky nuisances in the legislative chamber who won't bend to his imperial will: Ignore them.

The county executive is infamous for thumbing his nose at Legislature votes he doesn't like, prompting lawsuits that end up costing county taxpayers.

The mayor recently hinted at the same dubious strategy. The dispute could cost city taxpayers not only court fees but a much bigger bite in higher interest costs on bonds sold whenever this latest feud is resolved.

The spat is over $450,000 for Nevilly Court, a proposed $1.8 million South Buffalo athletic complex pushed by the district's Common Council member -- and Brown's 2009 mayoral opponent -- Michael Kearns.

The Council added the money when rearranging the $22.4 million capital budget. The mayor vetoed that addition -- and only that addition. The Council then overrode theveto.

In a city with a functioning democracy, that would be the end of the story and the beginning of the bond sale. But this is well you know where you are.

So despite a press release alluding to letting the process play out, Brown told The Buffalo News he would not initiate a bond sale despite the veto override. Alarmed math junkies in the city comptroller's office now warn that climbing interest rates mean borrowing costs could jump if the transaction is delayed by stalemate. The city also could miss the start of the construction season.

In other words, time really is money.

Beyond that, Brown's Groundhog Day routine -- beating Kearns over and over -- could result in another court fight to uphold the Council's legitimate role in the process.

But the political reality is that even if the Council were to win that fight, lawyers say the bond sale itself requires a two-thirds vote and then a three-fourths vote to override a veto of any specific project -- like, say, Nevilly Court.

Getting seven override votes could be a reach, which means the mayor might not even have to imitate the county executive. He could take a more novel route, adhering to the law, and still kill Nevilly Court.

The upshot is that compromise seems the only way out of this mess, lest the Council retaliate by scuttling mayoral-favored projects except those essential for health and safety.

Brown argues the city can't afford to take on the maintenance costs of the new field, which is a legitimate concern. Kearns points to the non-profit Buffalo Legacy Project, which says it is raising outside dollars to build and maintain the field. Brown says it still makes more sense to spend city money on existing South Buffalo facilities.

That's an argument worth having. The problem is, they've already had it; the Council vote indicates Kearns won.

Debating such matters is part of -- indeed, the essence of -- the democratic process.

But so is honoring the process and working out a solution when you lose the debate.

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