BMHA casts vote against free speech - The Buffalo News

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BMHA casts vote against free speech

The election of two tenant commissioners isn’t until June 10, but the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority’s bureaucracy thought it already had won.

It sicced the courts on tenant commissioner and gadfly Joe Mascia for the kind of unrelated elections law violation that typically gets ignored. And the BMHA – until attorney Joseph Makowski got a temporary restraining order late Wednesday – was sure it had gotten its most vocal critic booted from the ballot.

Mascia’s ostensible offense? Not filing campaign finance disclosure forms for his quixotic 2012 Assembly run, in which he got trounced.

His real offense? Taking his job as commissioner seriously and exposing waste and mismanagement the BMHA would rather you not know about.

For instance, it was Mascia who cobbled together records showing the BMHA spent $1.16 million with the Hodgson Russ law firm over a two-year period despite having its own in-house lawyers. Documents show thousands spent on other outside lawyers, as well.

“It’s our tax dollars that they’re wasting,” said Mascia.

It’s reminiscent of last year when The Buffalo News blew the whistle on the authority spending more than $90,000 on outside PR firms.

Mascia, a Marine Drive tenant and eight-year board member, now has a June 6 court date to try to permanently retain his ballot spot as the authority tries to silence him.

“He’s asking legitimate questions, and they don’t like that,” said Sam Smith, chairman of the Jurisdiction-Wide Resident Council of Buffalo, which also has taken on the BMHA.

How transparent is the authority’s attempted vendetta? At a candidate forum at Holling Homes this week, before the court order, even Mascia’s opponents demanded that he be allowed to participate. They could see through the BMHA’s thinly veiled effort to quash any meaningful tenant input.

“He’s a candidate, and he should be here,” said Leonard Williams, a former tenant commissioner running again for the board. Williams said he was “offended” that the League of Women Voters – which oversees tenant elections – wanted to bar Mascia from its debates and the election. He demanded to know how the issue even arose.

Documents indicate it arose from comments to a county elections commissioner by Adam Perry, a partner at Hodgson Russ – one of the very law firms Mascia zeroed in on. Perry did not return a call to comment.

BMHA officials insist they removed Mascia only because his violation “corrupts the intent of the statute” – which is laughable, coming from them.

Corruption of intent is using taxpayer dollars for PR work instead of for tenants’ well-being.

Corruption of intent is doing an end-around the citywide tenants group.

Corruption of intent is spending more than $1 million on outside law firms while staff lawyers spend their time harassing tenant advocates.

By their own definition of corruption, none of the BMHA’s top administrators would qualify to serve on the board of commissioners.

But they wouldn’t want to, anyway, because then they wouldn’t make nearly as much as they do now while spending their time – and your money – trying to silence critics.


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